Frenchman is First to Fly Across the English Channel via Hoverboard

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The first flight across the English Channel took place on July 25, 1909 with French aviator Louis Blériot commanding the cockpit. Another Frenchman, Franky Zapata, would attempt the same crossing 110 years later via a jet-powered hoverboard — and fail.

  • Known as the French “Green Goblin,” Franky Zapata has turned his jet ski racing know-how into creating personal aerial vehicles.
  • Not a one-time publicity stunt, the Flyboard Air hoverboard was developed through a grant from the French military.
  • Beyond the hoverboard, Zapata is currently working on a flying car set to debut in 2020.

Franky Zapata first made headlines during this year’s Bastille Day celebrations in Paris. As part of a military parade, Zapata flew above the curious crowds via his creation: the turbine engine-powered Flyboard Air.

As photography and videos made their way across the internet, the fully-suited and helmet-wearing Zapata was immediately likened to a familiar Spider-Man foe, the Green Goblin. However, no mad scientist, Zapata is a former jet ski racer turned inventor.

Specializing in personal flyers for both aquatic and land use, Zapata received a $1.4-million grant from the French armed forces specifically to develop the hoverboard for possible military applications.

Regarding the English Channel crossing, Zapata’s initial outing was to begin in Sangatte, France and conclude 22 miles later in Dover, England. Although expected to only be a 20-minute journey, the Flyboard Air hoverboard still required a fuel stop. Unfortunately, Zapata literally missed the boat landing and fell into the water instead.

The do-over took place on Sunday, August 4, and with a larger vessel to target, Zapata successfully refueled and traversed the Strait of Dover in about 22 minutes. According to Zapata, he reached speeds of up to 106 mph during the flight. Interestingly, official specs list the Flyboard Air to travel 87 mph with a maximum height of almost 500 feet.

Franky Zapata
Franky Zapata on Bastille Day. Photo (c) Getty Images

Nevertheless, the second time was the charm. So, what’s next for the flying enthusiast? A sportscar, of course. Already in development, the prototype flying car features four gas turbines with the production version to ultimately be equipped with 10. If traveling between the targeted speeds of 190 to 250 mph, the vehicle would have an estimated range of 70 miles. Its official debut is expected to be sometime in 2020.

With Zapata’s ingenuity and increased public fascination, going airborne could add yet another dimension to personal mobility and exist in a future closer than we think. But for now, if the inaugural automobile flight takes place across the sea, Zapata and company are definitely going to need a much, much bigger boat.

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