Mankind has always had an obsession with flying. Not just in large metal vehicles, which is probably just a compromise. In both science and fiction, people have tried to develop machines that would propel their bodies into the air and, ideally, let it stay there until they reach their intended destination. It’s no Iron Man suit, but French inventor Franky Zapata may have just made some of those dreams come true when he took his kerosene backpack and crossed the English Channel on his futuristic flyboard.
At 06:17 GMT, Zapata took off from Sangatte near Calais, France. 22 minutes later, he landed safely at St. Margaret’s Bay in Dover, England. Traveling at 170 km/h (106 mph), the 40 year old inventor made the 35.4-km (22-mile) journey in the air to mark a historic moment when a man would fly over the famous Channel.
It wasn’t a single continuous trip, though. To power the flyboard, Zapata makes use of a backpack filled with kerosene and to keep the amount of kerosene safe and manageable, Zapata would have to switch backpacks on a “refueling station boat”. That was trickier than it sounded and Zapata’s attempt on July 25 saw him falling into the water before even reaching the boat. Fortunately, this time it was without incident.
It’s hardly going to start a new market for personal flight machines but Zapata and his Z-AIR company already has one very interested customer. The French government has already given him a $1.4 million grant to develop the technology for military use, be it for logistics or, if necessary, for assault.
Zapata himself admits that controlling the machine isn’t exactly easy so it will still be quite a while before these flyboards become a common thing. Nonetheless, it could be a stopgap measure while we wait for the jetpacks and flying suits of armor of the future.