Despite a valiant effort, Franky Zapata has failed in his attempt to cross the English Channel on his jet-powered flyboard. The 40-year-old French inventor made it halfway across the stretch of water but tumbled into the sea as he tried to land on a boat to refuel.
Zapata gained international attention just over a week ago when he made a spectacular flight on his Flyboard Air at the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, France.
Buoyed by the experience, the French inventor set himself the target of crossing the Channel at its narrowest point — a distance of about 20 miles (32 km) — on his flying machine.
Taking off from a beach in northern France on Thursday morning local time with the Flyboard Air attached to his feet, Zapata lifted slowly from a launch platform before hurtling toward England at speeds of more than 100 mph (160 kph), traveling at an altitude of no higher than 20 meters (about 65 feet).
The trip was expected to take 20 minutes with one stop to refuel on a boat halfway across. And that’s when it all went wrong.
Speaking at a press conference later, Zapata said the boat turned out to be too small and the sea too choppy to make a stable landing. The conditions caused him to topple into the water, bringing his attempt to become the first person to cross the Channel on a flyboard to a soaking wet end.
He was quickly plucked from the sea, together with his Flyboard Air, which he said suffered minimal damage in the incident.
Zapata described Thursday’s outing as “like flying in a dream,” adding, “It was an amazing sensation, not scary at all.”
Unfazed by the impromptu dunking, the Frenchman said he wanted to try the feat again, possibly “in a matter of days.”
The Flyboard Air is powered by five small turbine engines running on kerosene stored in the pilot’s backpack. The compact machine can reach speeds of up to 118 mph (190 kph) and stay in the air for around 10 minutes at a time.
Zapata has flown it to a height of 150 meters, though it can go much higher if necessary. The pilot uses a handheld throttle to control the flyboard, while a head-up display offers data on engine status, fuel levels, altitude, and speed.
Thursday’s effort came just a few days after Australian David Mayman donned his own jetpack for a successful flight around Australia’s Sydney Harbour.