SANGATTE, France (AFP) — A daredevil French inventor is Thursday to attempt a flight across the Channel standing on a jet-powered “flyboard”, in an ambitious crossing he sees as following in the footsteps of the aviation pioneers.
Franky Zapata, a former jet-skiing champion, aims to soar above the Channel “like a bird” in the crossing from northern France to southern England, in a scene likely to resemble a science fiction film.
In a tribute to past aviation heroes, the 40-year-old has picked the day that marks 110 years since pioneer Louis Bleriot made the first airplane flight across the Channel on July 25, 1909.
Zapata plans to take off from Sangatte on the northern French coast just outside Calais from 6:00-8:00 am (4:00-6:00 am GMT), although the precise time will depend on shipping traffic and the wind.
He hopes to make the 35-kilometer (22-mile) crossing in 20 minutes, keeping an average speed of 140 kilometers an hour (87 mph) at a height of 15-20 meters (50-65 feet) above the water.
He then plans to land in Britain around Dover, in a location that has yet to be disclosed.
His plan hit problems initially as the French maritime authorities refused to give the project their blessing — while stopping short of an outright ban — due to busy shipping traffic in the Channel.
But the maritime authorities said they lifted their “unfavorable opinion” after receiving guarantees from Zapata about his refueling plans and safety.
– ‘Follow in the footsteps’ –
The biggest problem on Thursday could prove to be wind strength, which Zapata said it “could make the crossing more complex”.
“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 told reporters ahead of the flight.
Zapata sprung to national prominence at the July 14 Bastille Day military parade when he soared above the Place de la Concorde in Paris in front of world leaders including President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He carried a rifle during that demonstration and the French defense ministry said it was studying how the flyboard could be used by its troops.
Zapata’s flyboard, which is about the size of a skateboard, is powered by five small jet engines that allow the rider to fly at speeds of 190 kilometers an hour (118 mph).
It is fuelled by kerosene stored in the rider’s backpack and Zapata will carry 47 kilos (104 pounds) of it on Thursday.
If all goes to plan, he will make one refueling stop on a boat mid-Channel to pick up a second pack of kerosene.
“We want to follow a little bit in the footsteps of the pioneers of aviation,” he added.
© Agence France-Presse