Aircraft

Franky Zapata's awesome Flyboard Air redefines the concept of a hoverboard

Franky Zapata's awesome Flyboa...
Flyboard Air: Franky Zapata looks strangely calm for a man standing on nothing but a pile of jet thrust
Flyboard Air: Franky Zapata looks strangely calm for a man standing on nothing but a pile of jet thrust
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Fake staged takeoff and landing sequences in the video give us the impression that Flyboard Air is an ugly machine to get off the ground, or back on.
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Fake staged takeoff and landing sequences in the video give us the impression that Flyboard Air is an ugly machine to get off the ground, or back on.
The view from up high: Franky Zapata was not shy during his "first" flight test.
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The view from up high: Franky Zapata was not shy during his "first" flight test.
Franky Zapata's hundreds of hours of Flyboard practice make him the perfect pilot for the riskier Flyboard Air
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Franky Zapata's hundreds of hours of Flyboard practice make him the perfect pilot for the riskier Flyboard Air
Flyboard Air: not even the length of a skateboard
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Flyboard Air: not even the length of a skateboard
Flyboard Air: heat distortion under the new vehicle and a tell-tale sound signify that Zapata has gone to jet turbine engines
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Flyboard Air: heat distortion under the new vehicle and a tell-tale sound signify that Zapata has gone to jet turbine engines
Flyboard Air: untethered flight
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Flyboard Air: untethered flight
Flyboard Air: still a lot safer to fly over water
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Flyboard Air: still a lot safer to fly over water
Flyboard Air: looks absolutely space age
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Flyboard Air: looks absolutely space age
Flyboard Air: Franky Zapata shows how you lean to move and turn the flying platform
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Flyboard Air: Franky Zapata shows how you lean to move and turn the flying platform
Flyboard Air: now THAT's what we call a hoverboard
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Flyboard Air: now THAT's what we call a hoverboard
Flyboard Air: Franky Zapata looks strangely calm for a man standing on nothing but a pile of jet thrust
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Flyboard Air: Franky Zapata looks strangely calm for a man standing on nothing but a pile of jet thrust
Flyboard Air: uses a similar hand control to the water jet flyboards
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Flyboard Air: uses a similar hand control to the water jet flyboards
Franky Zapata prepares to fly his new jet platform. A friend stands by with a fire extinguisher, as if that will help if he plummets from 30 metres to the ground
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Franky Zapata prepares to fly his new jet platform. A friend stands by with a fire extinguisher, as if that will help if he plummets from 30 metres to the ground
Flyboard Air: it'l be interesting to see what the landing really looks like
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Flyboard Air: it'l be interesting to see what the landing really looks like
David Mayman accepts the challenge!
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David Mayman accepts the challenge!

Franky Zapata's water-jet Flyboards have very quickly become a popular vacation experience, but the French jet ski champion has bigger goals in mind. Over the weekend, he released the first video that claims to show his new Flyboard Air in action. The Air ditches the water jet for what appears to be a jet turbine engine, and allows him to fly untethered through the sky to a maximum height of 10,000 feet and a maximum endurance of 10 minutes. It's early days yet, but we humbly propose a jet race against David Mayman and his JB-9 Jetpack.

We'd estimate that no human alive has more experience operating a standing jet platform than Franky Zapata. The French jet ski champion stunned the world in 2011 with the release of his Flyboard, a jet platform tethered to a jet ski that put enough thrust under your feet to lift you 9 meters (29.5 ft) into the air on a jet of water and perform all sorts of aerobatics.

The simple, fun Flyboard very quickly became one of the must-do holiday experiences of the noughties. It was tricky to fly, required a lot of core body strength and sent a lot of people forcefully into the drink – but it was the closest thing you could get to a safe and affordable personal flight experience.

And as it turns out, it may have been a stepping stone to something far greater.

Over the weekend, Zapata released the first video of his latest invention: the Flyboard Air. Gone is the jet ski, gone is the hose, and gone is the tether. This thing appears to take the handling and control system of the Flyboard, but replace the water jets with at least one jet turbine engine and what appears to be a backpack fuel tank.

Flyboard® Air Test 1

In the video he soars as high as 30 meters (98 ft) above the ground, instantly leapfrogging the best personal flight efforts we've seen from manned multicopter operators – although like previous efforts, Zapata is wise to keep his flight testing over water where an engine failure will be less likely to turn him into a jam pancake.

Details are being kept deliberately scant, but Zapata has released the following figures: The Flyboard Air can go as high as 10,000 feet (3,048 m), with 10 minutes of flight possible and a top ground speed around 150 km/h (93 mph).

Flyboard Air: untethered flight
Flyboard Air: untethered flight

That puts Zapata in a similar league with David Mayman and Nelson Tyler, whose JB-9 jetpack is also capable of such numbers. And it saddles him with similar problems: what do you do in case of engine failure? How can you make it safer for non-Zapata level athletes to fly? Can you responsibly sell these things to people?

Parachutes are more or less useless below 100 feet, as they just don't have time to open and slow you down. Even that's a stretch – 250 feet is about as low as you want to get to feel like you're not pushing your luck. And yet, presumably, people will want to fly these things low enough to get a bird's eye perspective on the world. That means both the Flyboard Air and the JB-9 will spend a lot of their flight time in a deadly zone between 30 and 200 feet off the ground where the failure of a jet engine or a miscalculation in fuel load will be catastrophic. With no wings or autorotation to bring them down softly, they're entirely reliant on the thrust they produce.

Still, safety issues aside, the Flyboard Air is a proper space-age flying platform, and Franky Zapata is the perfect man to pilot it. He makes it look nimble and fun, if slightly terrifying. It'll be fascinating to see where things go from here, but clearly we need to get Zapata and Mayman together for some kind of jetpack race.

Edit: uh oh... What have we gone and done?

David Mayman accepts the challenge!
David Mayman accepts the challenge!

Franky, what say you? We have contacted Mr. Z and will let you know what he says!

Source: Zapata Racing

49 comments
David Buzz
There's clearly enough signs in the video to see that it's got 4 model aircraft turbile engines in it. ( the square shape of the area between the feet, the multiple visible exhaust disturbances in a few shots ( both from and side shots ), and there some intake/s visible to people who know that they are looking for.
Anthony Parkerwood
A jetski with turbine thrusters could carry more fuel. Probably safer and faster too.
VincentWolf
Why not make a hybrid electric copter with jet pack. The electric only activates when the jet pack fails and it can lower a person ONE time gently from any altitude before the batteries go dead. That would work at ANY altitude unlike parachutes.
mhpr262
It looks fun as hell, but also incredibly dangerous. The amount of stupid stuff one could do with that thing is simply mindboggling. Riding motorcycles on the street is as safe as playing Bingo in your local pensioner's home compared to that.
KirklandSewell
...I GUESS IT'S NOW TIME TO "WORK ON SOME NEW-KINDA-PARACHUTE, THAT ARE EFFECTIVE BELOW 100FT...NO??!!
Buellrider
If that flips over he then gets nailed head first into the ground and game over. Otherwise super cool.
-dphiBbydt
This is very impressive engineering. To make a stable flying platform like that is remarkable. Well done to the team. I wonder if they got some inspiration from the 'flying pulpit' project of the 70s ? I suspect there will be a lot of interest in this technology.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
Full-body air bags? Solid-fuel rocket booster "eject" unit (to get you up to parachute altitude)? Only fly over 18 foot deep fresh powder snow? There's gotta be a way, y'all! Let's get our thinking caps on! We can DO this!
Rockbus
Talk to the BSR guys. 10 min flight time limits usefulness but pretty good project.
AngelLestat
This is clearly fake. At that side you can not have the power to lift him and a way to achieve stability (using flywheels), you can not use turbines as stability because their reaction time is slow. Stability from the bottom is super hard. They use a helicopter with a long cable erased by software, maybe they do it as a joke or to steel money like a kickstarter product. By the way. the turbines are real, but they dont have the power needed.