Flyboard Air - Zapata Racing

“Flying Man” and Flyboard Air – “Back to the future” in the present time

Reiner Hertl
6 pictures
6 minutes

In the classic movie “Back to the Future II” from 1989, Marty McFly glooms over the mainland on a fictitious hoverboard. On his second attempt, inventor Franky Zapata now succeeded in 2019 on his real board as the first “flying man” to cross the English Channel. A French pioneer in the footsteps of the aviation pioneer Louis Blériot. 110 years earlier he was the first man to cross the English Channel – also with his own construction.

The video takes you on a flight, but without an actual airplane (Calais-Dover):

Highlights ignited Zapata first in Paris, then in Calais

Before he mastered the “Strait of Dover”, the narrowest part of the English Channel, France’s “Rocket Man” quickly impressed state guests and the public on the national holiday on 14 July in Paris. TV presenters drew a James Bond comparison for this appearance in front of President Macron and Chancellor Merkel – to stay with film and television here once again.

Is this the scenario of a “soldier of the future”? He’s coming from up on high here, anyway. Voilà! Zapata’s presentation, professionally staged, was one of the Parisian attractions:

It was no coincidence that the entrepreneur from Marseille presented his Flyboard Air at a military parade: the French military had previously subsidized the further development of turbines for his aircraft with more than one million euros. So Franky Zapata took off for a round over the Champs-Élysées – with a rifle in his hand. For the civilian versions of the jet platform, the ZAPATA RACING company plans to use it in the rescue and industrial sectors – but above all in the leisure segment.

Thus flying board avant-garde over various terrains. But who exactly is the man that is the only one who knows how to master the Flyboard Air in such a way that he can fly over the 35 kilometres wide strait with up to 170 km/h? And who developed the innovation for it “in his garage”. For grands fans de l’aviation, of course, the sophisticated technology is also highly interesting:

Flyboard – the fuel in the backpack, navigation with a joystick

Many hoverboards fly à la drone, which means propeller-driven or with rotors. But the Flyboard Air is different. The technology of the Flyboard Air is also completely different from that of the Flyboard for water sports, also developed by Zapata. While the latter platform works with water pressure nozzles, the former uses gas turbines to provide the potential. In essence, the jet engines suck in air and utilise fuel. The gas jet consisting of compressed air and combustion exhaust gas from the outlet nozzle provides the buoyancy. In comparison, you can see a flying board in action, still attached to a water hose:

Flyboard - Zapata Racing
Carredu Simone at the Flyboard World Championship 2017 / © Zapata

Five of these small jet engines, each with 250 hp, let the kerosene powered Flyboard Air take off and float. The necessary aviation fuel is transported in a backpack weighing about 35 kilograms on the pilot’s back, which is of course a load. However, it also has the advantage of being able to maintain better balance. Because the pilot of the Flyboard Air stands with its feet strapped in and gets the propulsion also by tilting the board.

There is not only something new in the air – it is also obvious that this art of flying requires special skills. From which skills does Zapata draw this ability?

Franky Zapata: jet ski pilot and extreme sportsman, mechanic, inventor and entrepreneur

The exceptional talent of the 41-year-old adventurer is more than proven with European Championship and World Championship titles in jet skiing. From water sports to high altitude flight, Zapata brought his patented, water jet powered flyboard. His sales success and other hydro-powered aircraft such as the Hoverboard or the Jetpack drove ZAPATA RACING further forward – until Franky Zapata presented his first Flyboard Air in 2016.

And then in 2017 it was no longer allowed to take off – disputes with the aviation authorities were the trigger. The latter classified the board as an aircraft and thus subjected it to the regulations for overflight of the airspace and saw danger for users and the public. Only after negotiations with the authorities and military, tests and further development of Flyboard Air could progress. Which also illustrates Zapata’s insistence on pursuing and realizing dreams. His statement after landing in Dover:

I simply fulfilled my lifelong dream.

Franky Zapata after crossing the English Channel

Why it took two attempts for this daredevil flight and against what historical background it took place, is once again an exciting chapter in the history of aeronautics:

Blériot, Latham, Zapata – of first and second attempts

With his Blériot XI, constructed by Blériot himself, the Frenchman was the first man to fly over the English Channel. Flight duration 37 minutes, flight altitude about 100 meters, flight date: July 25, 1909. 6 days earlier, his competitor Hubert Latham – interestingly enough also a boat racer – had failed at the same attempt and had to make an emergency landing in the water after 13 of the 35 kilometer long Calais-Dover route due to engine problems. He tried it again on 27 July 1909. On 25 July 2019, the 110th anniversary of Blériot’s pioneering act, Zapata started:

Zapata’s first attempt: Man over (Hover)Board!

Zapata was in a similar situation as Latham – halfway along the way he had to make an emergency landing. The reason was a problem with the difficult refuelling manoeuvre. Background: The fuel of the Flyboard Air was only enough for half of the flight. A stopover on a ship for refuelling was necessary. Unfortunately, the refuelling went so badly that Zapata fell into the water. Undamaged, but with “enormous disappointment”. And what does Zapata do? He repairs his Flyboard Air, wants to know it again after 10 days and takes off to England again on 04 August:

Zapata’s second attempt: Flight history is being written again

It went well. I’m satisfied… I wasn’t afraid, but I was a little stressed.

Franky Zapata – The pioneer overjoyed and with clenched fist after his coup

It is not the return of the Avengers, it is reality. Congratulations to Franky Zapata, who managed to cross the English Channel on board his flyboard.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly congratulated on Twitter

So far still question marks and to-do’s for the military version of the Flyboard Air

How the platform can and should ultimately also be used militarily is still open. Current problem areas: The board is still very loud at several decibels. And consumes a lot of kerosene. Which would particularly make the pilot with the tank bag on his back vulnerable. It is already conceivable, for example, that the board could be used for operational missions to pass through minefields. Jump missions. While Zapata is already on the jump again. Although he had arranged for a leave of absence after the English Channel:

Reach for the next dreams

The next stage would be “2,000 meters” altitude and “flying above the clouds” with the Flyboard Air. Zapata also wants to fly with his other project, a “flying car”.

Flyride - Flyboard Air - Franky Zapata
Two inventions by Franky Zapata – Flyboard Air and Flyride / © Zapata

Even Marty McFly in “Back to the Future II” was airborne in the flying car. If you still want to stay nostalgic in old cinema memories on air, you can stream: Including the hoverboard ride that we were talking about. And celebrating the 30th anniversary of the movie.

Pictures © Zapata

by Reiner Hertl

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