Franky Zapata delighted crowds at France’s Bastille Day celebrations last week when he took a solo flight over Paris on his jet-powered hoverboard. The stunt even prompted a nod of approval from President Macron.
But flying over spectators on the Champs-Élysées clearly wasn’t enough for Zapata, who says he’s now planning a far more ambitious trip on his Flyboard Air machine — from France to England.
The challenge, which Zapata intends to take on this Thursday, would see the inventor cross the English Channel at its narrowest point, a distance of about 21 miles. That’s like going from New York City’s Times Square all the way to White Plains, but with only water in between.
The date is significant, too, as it will mark the 110th anniversary of the first cross-Channel airplane flight, piloted by Louis Blériot.
Zapata told Le Parisien that he plans to take off from near Calais, France, refueling only once — on a boat — before landing in Dover, England. He said he should be able to complete the journey in around 20 minutes.
The 40-year-old Frenchman describes the upcoming feat as “the realization of a dream,” though admitted that he was “very stressed” about the idea, too.
Zapata said his machine only used 3% of its potential during the Bastille Day parade, estimating that it’ll need to use 99.9% for the ambitious Channel crossing. He’ll also have to fly high enough to dodge all the ships navigating the English Channel, which is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. No wonder Zapata is only giving himself a 30% percent chance of making it to the other side.
Powered by five small turbine engines, the Flyboard Air can reach speeds of up to 118 mph (190 kph) and stay in the air for 10 minutes at a time. Zapata has flown it to a height of 150 meters, though it’s capable of going much higher. The pilot uses a handheld throttle to control the hoverboard, while a head-up display offers data on engine status, fuel levels, altitude, and speed.
The machine’s versatility, as well as its ability to fly in poor weather and at night, has caught the attention of the military in both France and the U.S., with the French backing it to the tune of $1.4 million to finance further testing.