Fact Check

Human Bird Wings

Video clip shows a man flying with human bird wings?

Published March 22, 2012


Claim:   Video clip shows a man flying with human bird wings.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, March 2011]

This video is part 14 of 14 videos. It is from the YouTube channel Human Bird Wings and gives the website: humanbirdwings.net.
Is this all cgi, or did this really fly?


Origins:   According to a press release issued on 20 March 2012, Dutch engineer Jarno Smeets stated that, as shown in the video linked above, he was the first man in history to fly like a bird with self-built wings:

Engineer Jarno Smeets (31) is the first man in history to have made a successful short flight with his self-built wings modeled on the movement and structure of real bird wings. Assisted by an electronic system of his own design, Smeets took off from the ground in a park in The Hague last sunday 18th of March 2012. The flight of an estimated hundred meters lasted about a minute, after which Smeets landed safely.

Until now people had assumed that it was impossible to fly with bird-like wings using human muscle power. Smeets designed his own system to solve this problem, using two Wii controllers, the accelerometers from a HTC Wildfire S smartphone and Turnigy motors. This combined mechanism provided Smeets with extra power to move his 17m2 wings and allowed him to move his arms freely without any risk of breaking them. The system is a wireless (haptic) concept. The wing itself was built out of a kite and carbon windsurf masts (as flightpins).

Human Bird Wings is an independent project initiated from the personal ambition and vision of Dutch engineer Jarno Smeets. "Ever since I was a little boy I have been inspired by pioneers like Otto Lilienthal, Leonardo da Vinci and also my own grandfather". Six months ago Smeets started researching. Smeets has developed and realized his wings with support from an independent team assembled under the Human Bird Wings project, sharing his progress through a well documented blog and YouTube channel. He has offered his followers an open source concept in building bird wings. Aided by helpful suggestions of his audience he was able to successfully finish his bird wings concept.

With this project Smeets has proven that modern technology and robotica can create realistic futures from seemingly impossible engineering dreams to fly like a bird.

As chronicled on his own web site, Jarno Smeets claimed to have been pursuing a project to build and fly with his own wings. What he supposedly developed didn't quite match Leonardo da Vinci's vision of self-powered flapping wing flight, but rather appeared to be more a powered, human-controlled ornithopter.

Generally, video clips of Smeets' attempts to fly were met with skepticism from viewers who questioned whether the videos accurately reflected what actually took place (due in large part to some questionable camerawork). Wired's Rhett Allain analyzed Smeets' latest video and concluded that although it was questionable, "there is nothing in this video that indicates it must be a fake," while Gizmodo offered CGI experts' opinions on why they believed the video was faked.

However, after Jarno Smeets' background failed to check out when curious investigators started examining it, the man behind the stunt came forward on Dutch television and admitted that the "Jarno Smeets" identity was a made-up one and the project was a hoax:

The man who claimed to achieve bird-like flight with a custom-built contraption came clean today: It was a hoax 8 months in the making.

Netherlands artist Floris Kaayk, who went by the name of Jarno Smeets during his "Human Birdwings" project, admitted to the hoax on a Dutch television program called "De Wereld Draait Door" ("The World is Turning").

"My name is Floris Kaayk. I'm actually a filmmaker and animator. I am now 8 months working on an experiment about online media," Kaayk told the show, according to a Dutch-to-English translation in a YouTube video. Kaayk said he pulled off the hoax because "it's everybody's dream to fly."

Last updated:   22 March 2012

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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