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Daring French ‘flyboard’ inventor to attempt English Channel crossing

French inventor Franky Zapata on his jetpack near the Eiffel Tower in Paris
French inventor Franky Zapata on his jetpack near the Eiffel Tower in Paris REUTERS/Charles Platiau

After overcoming red tape in France, the ‘flyboard’ inventor who wowed Paris crowds with his jetpack flying demonstration during this year’s Bastille Day military parade said on Wednesday he finally got the green light to fly across the English Channel on 25 July.

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"I feel good. The hardest thing for me was the authorisations," inventor Franky Zapata said at a news conference in Saint-Inglevert outside Calais. "It was a lot of stress," he added.

French maritime officials initially did not want to give the ok to fly over the Channel due to the large amount of shipping traffic, but professional pilot Zapata reassured them that refueling plans and overall safety were in place.

He plans to begin his trip from Sangatte on the northern French coast outside Calais, and fly to an area around Dover in the UK, making the 35-kilometre crossing in 20 minutes.

"This simple dream has become true and tomorrow [Thursday] we will fly from one country to another," said Zapata.

He admitted that the wind could be problematic, but if conditions were poor, he would be able to refuel twice on the trip. He has planned to leave early morning between 4-6AM GMT for “best chances for success.”

Jetting to success

The skateboard-sized flyboard is powered by five small jet engines that run on kerosene. The engines, stored in a backpack he wears that weighs 47 kilos, can propel Zapata at speeds of up to 190 kilometres per hour. He says he will maintain an average speed of 140 kilometres per hour while crossing the water.

He has scheduled one refueling stop in the middle of the Channel on a boat to pick up his second kerosene pack. Zapata will be controlling the flyboard with a handheld throttle, moving the vehicle about 15-20 metres above the Channel while wearing boots that are attached to the board.

July 25 has a special significance for 40-year-old Zapata, because it marks 110 years since French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot made the first airplane flight across the English Channel in 1909.

"We created a new way of flying. We don't use wings. You are like a bird, it is your body that is flying. It is a boyhood dream," he said.

 

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