WATCH | French inventor Franky Zapata crosses English channel on home-made flying board
A Frenchman who has spent years developing a jet-powered hoverboard zoomed across the English Channel on Sunday, fulfilling his quest just 10 days after failing in a first attempt when he fell into the water while trying to refuel.
Franky Zapata set 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, on England's south coast.
Escorted by three helicopters, he glided across the water in the early morning light and landed 22 minutes later in the picturesque bay, where dozens of onlookers and journalists awaited him.
"Everything went great! Even though it was still tricky," Zapata said after the flight, referring to a complex landing manoeuvre on a boat around three-quarters of the way across to pick up a fresh backpack full of kerosene.
He said that based on the indicators in the visor of his helmet, 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.
"Then I saw England getting closer, so I tried to have some fun so I could forget the pain -- my legs were on fire!" he said.
He later broke down in tears of emotion while talking on the telephone to his son, who told him, "Dad, you're the best!"
"Frankly, I'm tired," he said later. "I need a holiday."
Zapata, a 40-year-old former jet-ski champion, first tried to make the crossing 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.
Asked if he considered himself Bleriot's successor, Zapata told BFM television later Sunday: "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.
French maritime authorities gave Zapata's team permission to keep the refuelling boat in French waters, something they had refused the first time around citing safety concerns.
Zapata's team had been racing to repair the hoverboard after it was damaged from falling in the Channel waters 10 days ago.
The main uncertainty this time around, Zapata had warned before the second attempt, was that his hoverboard might end up having "a little problem."
But he said Sunday that his team had worked around the clock since the first attempt ten days ago, spending 15 to 16 hours a day on rebuilding the craft after it was damaged in the water.
'My life's work'
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 soared noisily above a crowd of stunned onlookers that included French President Emmanuel Macron.
His device has also captured the attention of the French military, which in December gave Zapata's company, Z-AIR, a 1.3 million euro ($1.4 million) development grant.
Defence Minister Florence Parly told France Inter radio that it might eventually serve a variety of purposes, "for example as a flying logistical platform or, indeed, as an assault platform."
"I can't help it, the first time I saw it fly I said, 'This is going to be my life's work'," Zapata told the French online media site Brut in a recent interview.
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