Innovator plans cross-Channel flight on personal VTOL

Franky Zapata, founder of Zapata Racing, will attempt to cross the English Channel on his personal VTOL – Flyboard Air – on Thursday (25th) this week. It will be 110 years to the day since Louis Blériot made the first Channel crossing in a powered aircraft.

 Unlike the Blériot monoplane which was powered by a petrol-driven 3-cylinder, 25-horsepower, air-cooled Anzani engine that drove a two-bladed Chauvière propeller, the Flyboard Air is powered by five jet turbines, which run on kerosene held in the rider’s backpack.

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Zapata aims to complete the cross-Channel flight in 20 minutes. But, given the Flyboard can remain airborne for 10 minutes at a time, he will have to refuel mid-journey.

According to The Guardian, Zapata’s flight has been approved by French civil aviation authorities but not maritime authorities, who said positioning a ship for refueling purposes would be disruptive to shipping in the Channel.  

Zapata Racing’s Anna Venekas said, “We were given permission to place a boat in English waters, but not in French waters.”

The French maritime authority told The Guardian: “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.”

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The flying enthusiast will cross from Sangatte, in France, to St. Margaret’s Bay, near Dover, in the UK. He expects to reach speeds of 140kmph.

In 2016, he set the world record for the farthest hoverboard flight, flying 2,252 metres off the southern coast of France. At approximately 35 kms, however, Thursday’s crossing will be over 10 times longer. 

Zapata demonstrated the Flyboard Air in Paris earlier this month, in honour of Bastille Day. He soared over crowds and European politicians – including Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel – posing as a ‘flying soldier’. 

Venekas told Revolution.Aero that the Flyboard Air’s technology will potentially be adapted for military applications. “We are in talks with them at the moment,” she said.

She added that operating the Flyboard Air would require a lot of practice. “It is very physical and to be a good pilot, you need many hours of training.”

The EZ-Fly, also a Zapata invention, has been tested by US Army veterans in the past and allegedly only takes 30 minutes of training to master.  

If Zapata makes it according to plan, his flight time will be just about half that of Blériot’s 37 minutes.