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25 June 2024

Frenchman achieves 'dream' of first hoverboard Channel crossing

Photo: AFP


A French daredevil who spent years developing a jet-powered hoverboard zoomed across the English Channel on Sunday, fulfilling his quest after pulling off a tricky refuelling manoeuvre that cut short his first attempt 10 days ago.

Franky Zapata blasted off on his "Flyboard" from Sangatte on the northern coast of France at 8:17 am (0617 GMT) for the 35-kilometre (22-mile) trip to St. Margaret's Bay in Dover.

Escorted by three helicopters, he glided across the water in the early morning light and landed 22 minutes later in the picturesque bay, to the applause of dozens of onlookers and journalists.

"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling happy, I'm feeling lucky. This is just an amazing moment for me," Zapata told AFP after landing.

He said the indicators in the visor of his helmet showed he raced over the busy shipping lane at a speed of 160-170 km/h (100-105 mph), doing zig-zags as he neared the coast to try to ease the fatigue in his legs.

"It's an isometric exercise for the thighs, so it burns - it's quite hard. But you recover quickly, it's not like riding a bicycle," he said.

Minutes after descending from the metal platform where he landed his craft, Zapata had broken down in tears of emotion while talking on the phone to his son, who could be heard saying, "Dad, you're the best!"

'My dream' 

Zapata, a 40-year-old former jet-ski champion, made his first attempt on July 25, to coincide with the 110th anniversary of Louis Bleriot's historic first crossing of the Channel by plane.But the bid was cut short when he tumbled into the water after failing to land on a boat to refuel - his backpack carries some 35 kilogrammes (77 pounds) of kerosene, enough to keep him aloft for around 10 minutes.

Photos: AFP

Asked if he considered himself Bleriot's successor, Zapata told BFM television: "It's not really comparable, he was one of the first men to fly."

"Let's just say that I achieved my dream."

This time the refuelling boat was bigger and had a larger landing area, and French navy vessels in the area kept an eye out in case of trouble.

Zapata's team had been racing to repair the hoverboard and its five turbines after it was damaged from falling in the Channel waters 10 days ago.

The main uncertainty this time around, Zapata had warned, was that his craft might end up having "a little problem."

But he said Sunday that his team worked around the clock since the failed attempt ten days ago, spending 15 to 16 hours a day to rebuild the device after it was damaged in the water.

Zapata's team said he would return to Sangatte - by boat this time - for a press conference at the city hall.

'Everyone wants to fly'

Zapata has been developing his hoverboard for the past three years, despite losing two fingers during its maiden flight in his garage near Marseille, when they got sucked into the turbines.

He already holds the Guinness World Record for the farthest hoverboard flight, a 2.2-kilometre trip over the Mediterranean Sea in April 2016.

No Guinness adjudicator was on hand for the latest Channel attempt, though a spokeswoman said he could still be awarded a new record if the trip meets its guidelines.

Zapata burst into the spotlight at this year's July 14 Bastille Day military parade in Paris, where he and his craft buzzed above a crowd of stunned onlookers that included French President Emmanuel Macron.

His device has also captured the attention of the French defence ministry, which in December gave Zapata's company, Z-AIR, a 1.3 million euro ($1.4 million) development grant, in particular for improving the turbines.

He acknowledged that for now the hoverboard isn't ready for military use, not least because of the noise and the hours required to master the craft.

But he is aiming higher, hoping to eventually soar into the clouds at altitudes well above the 15 to 20 metres (50-65 feet) currently - something that will require him to figure out how to carry a parachute, guidance equipment and possibly an oxygen tank.
Zapata is also working on a flying car that would be easy enough for anyone to pilot.

"Everyone wants to fly... We want to give everybody the ability to go flying whenever they want," he told BFM.

Frenchman takes off on 'Flyboard' for second Channel crossing bid

A daredevil French inventor on Sunday launched his second attempt to cross the English Channel on a jet-powered hoverboard, taking off from the northern French coast amid a crowd of onlookers.

Franky Zapata, 40, will again try to swap out his backpack full of kerosene by landing on a boat about halfway through the expected 20-minute trip toward St. Margaret's Bay in Dover, on England's southern coast.

Zapata failed to pull off the tricky refuelling manoeuvre during the first attempt on his "Flyboard" on July 25, hitting the platform and tumbling into the waters of the busy shipping lane.

He hopes to make the 35-kilometre (22-mile) crossing at an average speed of 140 kilometres an hour (87 mph) and at a height of 15-20 metres (50-65 feet) above the water.

This time the refuelling boat will be bigger and have a larger landing area, and French navy vessels in the area will again be keeping an eye out in case of trouble.