Franky Zapata has become the first person to cross the English Channel on a jet-powered flyboard.
The Frenchman made the 22-mile (35 km) crossing from France to England on Sunday, August 4 following a failed attempt a week earlier in which he landed up in the sea about halfway across.
Zapata took off from Sangatte near the port of Calais on his kerosene-fueled Flyboard Air at just after 6.15 a.m. local time before hurtling toward England at speeds of up to 110 mph (177 kph).
Holding an altitude of around 15 meters (50 feet) and flanked by several support helicopters, the 40-year-old inventor made one brief stop on a boat in the middle of the English Channel to refuel his flying machine before resuming his flight, which took 22 minutes country to country.
Speaking to reporters after the successful crossing, a tearful Zapata said: “For the last five to six kilometers I just really enjoyed it. Whether this is a historic event or not, I’m not the one to decide that, time will tell.”
He added: “We made a machine three years ago … and now we’ve crossed the Channel, it’s crazy.”
Zapata said the main challenge during the flight was the wind, which, if it had stopped suddenly, could have made it hard to keep the Flyboard Air stable during the high-speed trip.
The Frenchman pointed out that riding the machine in such conditions is actually physically tiring.
“It’s an isometric exercise for the thighs, so it burns, it’s quite hard,” he said, adding, “Your body resists the wind, and because the board is attached to my feet, all my body has to resist to the wind. I tried to enjoy it and not think about the pain.”
Zapata gained global attention just a couple of weeks ago when he made a scheduled — and rather spectacular — appearance on his flyboard at France’s Bastille Day celebrations, soaring above crowds lining the Champs-Élysées as a gun-toting “flying soldier.” President Macron, who witnessed the spectacular sight, gave Zapata a nod of approval during the display.
France’s armed forces minister recently suggested that the flyboard “can allow tests for different kinds of uses, for example as a flying logistical platform or, indeed, as an assault platform.” Zapata’s website also says the machine could be used by first responders in a situation where a location is difficult to reach, and also for infrastructure inspection and entertainment.
His first attempt at crossing the Channel last week ended in failure when he stopped to refuel. The boat turned out to be too small, and the water too choppy, causing Zapata to topple into the sea.
But there was no such mishap during his second attempt, allowing Zapata to fly straight into the record books.