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Grounded: 'Bird Man' Admits Faking Flying Video

(Image credit: jarnosmeets80 | YouTube)

A Dutch man named Jarno Smeets became an Internet sensation this week after posting a video on YouTube in which he appears to fly like a bird. In the video, he straps on a contraption that supposedly syncs the motion of his flapping arms to that of a huge pair of wings made of kite fabric, allowing him to flap the wings and take off into the air.

Except not.

As reported yesterday by Life's Little Mysteries, CGI experts quickly found flaws in the footage of Smeets taking flight that revealed the video clip had been tampered with. Internet marketing experts suggested the video may have been a viral ad campaign — for Nintendo Wii, perhaps, as Smeets claimed to have used Wii controllers to operate his wings. By the end of the day, doubt surrounding the video had soundly overtaken belief in the amazing new invention it seemed to show in action.

And now, the jig is up. Smeets, whose real name is Floris Kaayk, has come clean on Dutch television, admitting that his videos and accompanying blog were nothing more than what he calls "online storytelling."

"I’m actually a filmmaker and animator. I am now eight months working on an experiment about online media,” Kaayk told the press, referring to the fact that he began documenting the fake flying machine project on his blog last summer.

Kaayk also said the hoax was not, in fact, commercially-sponsored.

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Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.