This flying like a bird video was released on Monday and swiftly shared around the aviation community. In this two minute video, Janos Smeets shares the success of his 8 month long project to fly with “human bird wings” that he developed based on principles from Leonardo DaVinci. Last August he wrote that he was inspired by sketches that his grandfather drew of a flying bicycle which his mother found in the attic. Last week, he posted to the blog to say that his dream had finally saw reality:
I did it! This weekend I brought out my wings again for a second test. And here it is. Do I need to say more? Just watch the video
Jarno Smeets was hailed as the Flying Dutchman in the mainstream press including US, the UK, Germany, Belgium and others. Note that these articles have been updated to relate to the hoax but originally reported the story as news.
Meanwhile, the YouTube video had over four million views and twelve thousand comments, many arguing that the video was a hoax.
There were key issues with verification: the video itself does not show any detail of how the wings work and the blog itself never shares project details.
Various sites supported Jarno, with detailed explanations of the physics behind the wings and graphs from video analysis tools. Even Mythbuster’s weighed in with Thoughts on The Mechanics of Assisted Human Flight – Tested.
Meanwhile, the arguments in the YouTube comments continued. The Register updated their article with some suspicions:
We do note that there seems no reason for the ground cameras to stay so far away from the intrepid birdman during launch, and that the wings show no signs of the loading they would be under during such a flight. Furthermore the hardware doesn’t appear to contain a battery of the sort which would be required – bearing in mind that this would be a very large battery even for a flight technology more efficient than an ornithopter.
We strongly suspect that this has no more validity than certain other exotic personal-flight inventions which have been known to entrap journalists in the past.
However we would stand by our statements above “it still looks like a marvellous way to fly” and “it’s still an admirable achievement”.
Wired Science, having defended the physics, posted to state that they could not find “the man who identifies himself as Jarno Smeets”.
A LinkedIn page for Jarno Smeets, which is linked from Smeets’ website, says that he worked at Pailton Steering Systems from 2008 to 2010. John Nollett, the group managing director for Pailton Engineering Limited, said there is no record of anyone by such a name.
Wired also contacted Coventry University in the UK, where Smeets’ online profiles claim he attended school from 2001 to 2005.
The university’s student records staff searched their full digital records database, which contains students’ names who attended from 1986 to the present. They told Wired they found only one entry for anyone by the last name of Smeets: Alexandra Smeets, who attended from 1999 to 2000. No record for Jarno Smeets could be found.
Last night, filmmaker and animator Floris Kaayk admitted on Dutch national television that the project was a hoax. (If you don’t see the English subtitles, click on the CC button.)
Kaayk admitted that he never expected to get so much attention for what he called an art media project as an experiment in online media. He created the persona “Jarno Smeets” for the project eight months ago as a means of telling a story via a blog. “It’s about the dream [of flying] that so many people have,” he said.
To be precise, Human Birdwings was an online adventure and invention story in which fictional character Jarno Smeets developed wings in a do-it-yourself manner. The intention of this project was to share a personal, yet universal dream about flying like a bird.
Kaayk posted on his personal site that he plans to distribute a “making-of” documentary about this project next month.
Meanwhile, the argument in the comments on YouTube continues…