A brave attempt by a French inventor to fly a hoverboard across the English Channel ended in failure after he fell into the sea. Franky Zapata, who invented the jet-powered Flyboard Air, crashed into the sea while crossing the stretch of water between France and England on a hoverboard.
Zapata started his journey early this morning from near Calais. His objective was to cross St. Margaret’s Bay (approximately a 22-mile stretch of water) on the English coast in about 20 minutes. However, he fell into the water 15 minutes after takeoff.
According to Zapata’s team, he wasn’t injured in the accident, but he was disappointed. The crash occurred about 11 miles from his destination when he missed a landing platform, which was mounted on a boat. The Frenchman planned to use the landing platform to refuel his hoverboard.
Inventor Franky Zapata unveils his jet-powered hoverboard to the world as he attempts to cross the English Channel.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) July 25, 2019
One member of the team told The Guardian that waves and the strong wind shifted the one-meter-square landing platform slightly. Franky Zapata, who is a former jet-ski champion, was quickly recovered from the water.
“He is very angry,” Stéphane Denis, a member of his technical team, told French news outlet BFMTV. “It’s a huge disappointment.”
A large crowd gathered on the beach in Sangatte to witness Zapata fly a hoverboard across the English Channel. Zapata’s journey was meant to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the first powered flight between England and France.
Just before taking off, the Frenchman told the media that crossing the English Channel was “a boyhood dream.”
“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 said, according to The Independent.
He is expected to try again soon.
Zapata, 40 is popularly known as “Flyman.” He rose to popularity after he charmed spectators at Paris’ annual Bastille Day celebrations by flying over the military parade. At the time, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were present.
Zapata told Le Parisien newspaper last week that Bastille Day was “easy” compared to the English Channel challenge.
“I used 3 percent of the capacity of the machine, while for crossing the Channel I’ll need 99.9 percent,” the inventor said.
At the time, he also said he had a 50% chance of flying the hoverboard across the English Channel.
Zapata’s hoverboard can fly up to to 87 miles per hour at heights of 50 and 65 feet. The hoverboard is powered by five small jets which can produce about 250 horsepower each. It is not just the board that the rider has to take care of; the setup also includes a fuel tank on his back filled with kerosene and a handheld remote control.
Franky Zapata carried 42 liters of kerosene in the backpack, but even this wasn’t enough to fly him across the channel. Thus, he needed to refuel during a two-minute stop to swap backpacks.
According to Le Parisien, French authorities initially denied him permission for flying across the English Channel, saying it is too dangerous due to vessels in the channel.
“We have advised against the crossing because it is extremely dangerous given the traffic in the Channel, one of the busiest (shipping) straits in the world,” the French maritime authority said, according to The Guardian.
Zapata initially planned to make two stops to refuel, once in French waters and the other in U.K. waters. However, opposition from the authorities forced him to refuel once midway.
“This has made the challenge 10 times more difficult,” he said.
Though disappointing, Zapata’s failure highlights the difficulty in mastering such a machine and its practical use. The Frenchman said previously that it takes about 50 to 100 hours of practice just to stand on such a machine. According to The Guardian, the French military is interested in using the Flyboard Air as a logistical or assault tool. The French government has even made an investment in the development of the Flyboard Air.
The jet-powered hoverboard was pure fiction just a few years ago. People started to believe in the existence of such a gadget only after Zapata’s footage of him flying the Flyboard Air above a lake. Zapata holds the world record for the farthest hoverboard flight of 2,252 meters along France’s southern coast.
However, his world record flight faced opposition from France’s Civil Aviation Authority. The authority claimed that the hoverboard was technically an aircraft and thus violated the rules of minimum flying heights in populated areas. Zapata wasn’t prosecuted and has since shared numerous videos of his flying stunt. His hoverboard is reportedly inspired by the suit worn by the lead character in the movie Iron Man.