Aircraft

These boots were made for flying: A chat with France's very own jet-powered fly boy, Franky Zapata

Gizmag talks to Franky Zapata about the Flyboard Air, and the next generation of flying devices
Gizmag talks to Franky Zapata about the Flyboard Air, and the next generation of flying devices
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Official photo showing Franky Zapata coming in to land at Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France
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Official photo showing Franky Zapata coming in to land at Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France
First order of business after a safe landing, share the moment with Zapata Jr
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First order of business after a safe landing, share the moment with Zapata Jr
Crowds line the port at Sausset-les-Pins as Franky Zapata approaches
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Crowds line the port at Sausset-les-Pins as Franky Zapata approaches
Franky Zapata and support crew approach Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France
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Franky Zapata and support crew approach Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France
The Zapata Racing team celebrates a new world record for the farthest flight by hoverboard
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The Zapata Racing team celebrates a new world record for the farthest flight by hoverboard
The kind of wireless handheld controller used to increase thrust
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The kind of wireless handheld controller used to increase thrust
A remarkably relaxed Franky Zapata chats to members of the press before taking to the skies on the Flyboard Air
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A remarkably relaxed Franky Zapata chats to members of the press before taking to the skies on the Flyboard Air
Franky Zapata takes off from Carry-le-Rouet on the Mediterranean coast
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Franky Zapata takes off from Carry-le-Rouet on the Mediterranean coast
Proving to be quite the crowd-pleaser, Franky Zapata flying the Flyboard Air
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Proving to be quite the crowd-pleaser, Franky Zapata flying the Flyboard Air
"The machine can reach about 150 km/h, based on our calculations, but in reality I've never passed more than 80 km/h," Franky Zapata told us
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"The machine can reach about 150 km/h, based on our calculations, but in reality I've never passed more than 80 km/h," Franky Zapata told us
Franky Zapata sped along at around 70 km/h, about 30 meters above the choppy Mediterranean waters below.
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Franky Zapata sped along at around 70 km/h, about 30 meters above the choppy Mediterranean waters below.
All told Franky Zapata has spent only an hour and a half to two hours in the air on the current version of the Flyboard Air
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All told Franky Zapata has spent only an hour and a half to two hours in the air on the current version of the Flyboard Air
Franky Zapata told us that the range of the Flyboard Air is just a question of how much kerosene you're able to carry
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Franky Zapata told us that the range of the Flyboard Air is just a question of how much kerosene you're able to carry
Franky Zapata on the landing platform at Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France
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Franky Zapata on the landing platform at Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France
All smiles - Franky Zapata addresses an enthusiastic crowd after flying over 2 km on his jet-powered hoverboard
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All smiles - Franky Zapata addresses an enthusiastic crowd after flying over 2 km on his jet-powered hoverboard
Guinness World Records adjudicator Sofia Greenacre confirming the world record for the farthest flight by hoverboard on April 30
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Guinness World Records adjudicator Sofia Greenacre confirming the world record for the farthest flight by hoverboard on April 30
A mercifully quiet jet-powered hoverboard poses for photos after the record-breaking flight on April 30
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A mercifully quiet jet-powered hoverboard poses for photos after the record-breaking flight on April 30
Franky Zapata and son celebrate a new world record
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Franky Zapata and son celebrate a new world record
Gizmag talks to Franky Zapata about the Flyboard Air, and the next generation of flying devices
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Gizmag talks to Franky Zapata about the Flyboard Air, and the next generation of flying devices
On each side of the Flyboard Air is a 70 mm electric ducted fan to help with stability
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On each side of the Flyboard Air is a 70 mm electric ducted fan to help with stability
Jet A-1 kerosene is fed to the four 250 h jet engines through tubes from a backpack worn by the pilot
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Jet A-1 kerosene is fed to the four 250 h jet engines through tubes from a backpack worn by the pilot
The Flyboard Air is built using carbon fiber, aluminum and steel
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The Flyboard Air is built using carbon fiber, aluminum and steel

In the few weeks following the release of a video that appeared to show jet-ski champion Franky Zapata flying high in the sky on a jet-powered hoverboard, the online community split into two clear camps. On one side of the battlefield, collective jaws were dropping in amazement and wonder. On the other, cries of "fake," "foul" or "fraud" could be heard. On the last day of April we joined Zapata Racing in the south of France to settle the debate once and for all. Oh, and to witness an attempt to remain aloft for more than 280 meters and snatch the "farthest flight by hoverboard" record from Alexandru Duru. That record was pulverized when the Flyboard Air covered over 2 km in around seven minutes. We managed to grab a few words with a jubilant but quite exhausted Franky Zapata after his record-breaking flight.

Jumping straight in, we started our little tête-à-tête with a quick tour of the record-breaking Flyboard Air. Zapata revealed that much of the 20 kg (44 lb) flyer is made from carbon fiber, with four, specially modified for purpose, 250 horsepower jet engines enclosed in an aluminum and steel frame. The jets are fed Jet A-1 kerosene fuel from a backpack, which can be released in less than a second should problems arise. "I just have to press a switch and woosh, the kerosene is gone," he quipped with a confident smile.

The Flyboard Air is built using carbon fiber, aluminum and steel
The Flyboard Air is built using carbon fiber, aluminum and steel

Bolted to the top of the eye-catching, angular platform are a pair of white and black ski-like boots, each flanked by a 70 mm JP electric ducted fan powered by a LiPo battery that helps with stability. A computer system running a proprietary algorithm helps keep the Flyboard Air stable by increasing or decreasing each jet automatically.

"The problem is that you have to develop an algorithm that's able to keep you stable, but doesn't conflict when it's time to move the machine," he told us. "So the machine has to understand when you want to move or when it's an uncontrollable movement." And that's about all he would tell us about the computer control system.

In his right hand, Zapata grips the same kind of wireless controller as used with the original water-based Flyboard. "When I press my fingers [on the trigger] I increase the thrust. When I move my hand from side to side, it controls the yaw, using a gyro inside – like a Wii remote. When I move my body forward or backward, or to the side, I control the direction where I want to go." A bit like a Segway then. But jet-powered. And flying.

The Flyboard Air is, of course, an experimental platform, but Zapata Racing is now looking into the various aviation rules and regulations needing to be met in order to take the project forward, first in France and then beyond. Zapata believes that it will be classed as "a ULM (Ultra Léger Motorisé) machine like small copters, parachutes with an engine in the back or small airplanes."

Among the few details made available earlier this month was that the Flyboard Air can rise to 10,000 ft, we asked Zapata to elaborate. "We've never been that high, it's just a calculation showing its potential, but we will do it – we'll go to 10,000 ft," he said, with a glint in his eye that indicated serious intent. "The physical potential of the machine is to go to 10,000 ft, the reality today is that we've never been more than 30 meters (100 ft). It's the same as saying that the machine can reach about 150 km/h, based on our calculations, but in reality I've never passed more than 80 km/h."

"The machine can reach about 150 km/h, based on our calculations, but in reality I've never passed more than 80 km/h," Franky Zapata told us
"The machine can reach about 150 km/h, based on our calculations, but in reality I've never passed more than 80 km/h," Franky Zapata told us

The Zapata Racing team has been working on the current version of the Flyboard Air for around a year, though its development is built on a good deal of previous work. The very first flight was aboard an electric Air, and it didn't go quite as planned.

"The machine started on its own and caught two of my fingers. The machine started flying in the workshop, and breaking walls. It was a terrifying moment, because it was a LiPo battery inside. So after I caught it, the board exploded. Fire everywhere." This incident put the brakes on the project ... for a while.

"My wife got very scared and I had to promise her not to do this again. But after a few weeks, I told her I can't stop my nature so I have to move forward with this thing. When I decide to do something, it's an obsession." So work on the jet-powered Flyboard Air began again.

"We placed the jet engine in different ways that was logical for us, but it didn't work. We first did calculations, but the problem is that no-one really knows what works. Even the best engineers in the world don't understand where you have to place the gravity centers on the machine, judging stress and body movements. You cannot find these things on the Internet. So we had to imagine something, then try, try, try."

"We developed a little jet engine that we'd be able to catch in our hands, and with the hands we did a lot of tests to understand how it moved. By moving the small version of the jet engine in the air, we understood exactly where we had to place our hands, and so where we had to place our feet [on the bigger version]. Step by step we increased the reliability, ease of use etc. etc."

Franky Zapata and support crew approach Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France
Franky Zapata and support crew approach Sausset-les-Pins in the south of France

All told Zapata has spent only an hour and a half to two hours in the air on the current version of the Flyboard Air, but with the fuel backpack only able to carry enough kerosene for between four to 10 minutes per trip, that's actually quite a bit of fly time. He told us that the range of the Air is just a question of how much kerosene you're able to carry.

We wondered if anyone else on the team was able to pilot the jet-powered hoverboard, dropping huge hints that we would very much like to suit up and take flight along the coast of the Mediterranean.

"No, not yet. First because of not having enough skill on the water Flyboard at the moment. And Second, I prefer to get hurt myself rather than my friends or children getting hurt." The training required is a minimum of 50 hours on the water-based Flyboard, and demonstrating a significant skill level, before you're able to jump on this machine.

With a working Flyboard Air, and a distance record, in the bag, thoughts are already turning to developing a new generation of flying devices. Machines that people would be able to go to work on. The plan at the moment is to build something riders can sit on, just start and go. "Like a flying machine from Star Wars." Something that doesn't require the rigorous training needed to pilot the current machine – something like a flying motorcycle.

"I think in the next few months, we will be able to have this machine working. Our goal is to first help the army or French security to work against terrorism, like what happened in Paris. If you have a flying board or flying motorcycle, you can take off in 30 seconds and catch the people in minutes. The motorcycle will carry the fuel, so it will be able to fly for almost 30 minutes at 300 km/h."

And naturally, there's also talk of taking the Flyboard Air to the skies again to beat his already impressive Guinness World Record. "I can do something like four times more easily. I can fly for 8 km easily."

You can see the official Flyboard Air world record video below.

Source: Zapata Racing

Flyboard® Air Farthest flight by hoverboard (achieved on 30th April 2016 by Franky Zapata)

9 comments
PaleDale
Yeah this is pretty cool but its nothing new. Google "Williams X-Jet" this was built in the 80's and is still superior to any of the modern day "jet packs" or "hover boards". Like most people I am disappointed that its taken so long for this kind of tech to get back on track.
Galane
Flying Disc Man From... Earth. :) I'd like to see an upgraded version of the X-Jet, aka the WASP or Williams Aerial System Platform. With today's materials it could be built considerably lighter, extending its flight time (which was around 30 minutes) or allowing for a heavier payload. Despite the many uses and advantages for a military force being able to quickly deploy a lot of soldiers, setting down individually at precise points and on rooftops, flying *over* any street barricades and through places no helicopter can go, neither the American nor any other military has been very interested in "air-mobile infantry" where the soldiers move themselves. They prefer putting many eggs in one basket with transport helicopters. Shoot down one helicopter and a whole squad is lost, shoot down one individual flying platform (if you can manage to hit it!) and only one soldier is lost. The Hiller Flying Platform was nearly there, with a pair of counter rotating propellors in a duct beneath the pilot's feet. It proved to be very stable, with soldiers able to accurately fire rifles while airborne. But it was too tall, too large and too loud. The X-Jet was built around Williams' small jet engine they'd developed for cruise missiles, also used in the Bede BD5 jet airplane. The US military has been decommissioning older cruise missiles with those engines, dunno if they're scrapping the engines or if they will be sold as surplus. If available they'd be in like new condition with zero run time. Perfect for building new, updated X-Jets around.
Milton
wireless remote?! Dude's crazy.
wle
so it takes 1000 horsepower to do this???? wha!>>>???? wle
Matt Fletcher
Yeah, PaleDale and Galane beat me to it but here's the link to the WASP.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXNNc_HFodI). Still the WASP was never produced as far as I know and this looks like Zapata is going to fund this himself from his water flyingboard profits. It may not be the best (yet) but being produced and available is better than not available and being the best. If you really want the best we should be talking the Martin Jetpack (http://www.the-social-feed.com/2011/05/martin-jetpack-climbs-5000-feet-above.html).
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Good for high end aotonomous point to point human delivery system.
CzechsterMarek
Just way to cool. What can be said that hasn't already been said. Wish Frankie Zapata the best in his future work on his invention.
MarcStizzy
Serious congratulations to this guy. He has done France well.
johnnyhuego
None of this is going to be efficient or attainable until we discover another form of energy or a different way to harness the energy methods we already have. The world desparately needs new outbreaks in battery and electric technology.