Crossing the channel by hoverboard

Inventor Franky Zapata has just achieved this sci-fi feat...
13 August 2019


The white cliffs of Dover viewed from the sea.


In the news recently we’ve heard that the inventor Franky Zapata successfully crossed the Channel between Britain and France using his jet-powered hoverboard. Chris Smith finds out whether techhead Peter Cowley is impressed...

Peter - Were you on the program back at the end of 2017 where we talked about the Richard Browning device from Gravity Industries? I don’t know if you interviewed me or not…

Chris - He had rockets on his hands, didn’t he?

Peter - Hands and feet. So he was doing the same sort of thing. In fact I think using the same gas turbines actually, which are about a foot or so long and about 22 kilograms of thrust with about the same fuel consumption. So he must be pretty disappointed that he's not on the news now because that device was quite difficult to control, if you saw the video a couple of years ago. This one is effectively the same gas turbines I believe, looking at the photographs, just sitting on something that his feet are on. Now the big disadvantage on your hands is the exhaust gas is about 500 degrees centigrade so you don't really want to get it too close to…

Christ - You’d cook your legs!

Peter - I've got shorts on at the moment. Can you imagine that. So the concept is basically the same as it was some time ago but he has managed to get it working properly. Now the actual flight time is about the same. I don’t know if you noticed but Frank, he had to stop halfway, land on a ship, refuel, and take off again. And the reason he failed the week before or whenever it was, was because he missed the ship and landed in the water. So this time he actually managed to refuel, go on, and land then on the cliffs of Dover.

Chris - So how does it work then? He's got a hoverboard which has got the engines, the jet engines, gas turbines strapped onto it. Where's the fuel then? Is he carrying it?

Peter - The fuel’s in the backpack. So he's carrying about 20-odd kilos of fuel, which is only paraffin, so it's effectively gas jet engine fuel.

Chris - Oh my goodness, that’s quite heavy. So if he lands in the sea… how does he stay afloat?

Peter - No he will have landed... well I'm not sure about that, but he will have landed with it empty because he was trying to refuel at that point. Yeah you're right.

Chris - But if you crash into the sea, it’s quite a big weight! You need some buoyancy.

Peter - I don't know. But anyway, still alive. His wife was in tears if you noticed on the news clips.

Chris - I'm not surprised.

Peter - But the important thing is it must have some sort of self-stabilising thing. So if you see him flying through the air, he was going up to 110 miles an hour, 180 kilometres per hour, and he was about this sort of angle, so about 45 degrees, leaning well forward.

Chris - Leaning forward into the wind. So it must take quite a lot of controlling, that. Has he got a trigger or something?

Peter - He has a trigger for control of power I think, on the hand. But he said his own core strength was the most important thing to control himself, because any wind gust, he's having to protect that; unlike the Richard Browning one where he could just move his hands and legs around the place. I mean he would have more control over it than the hoverboard.

Chris - But think you're doing over 100 kilometres…

Peter - Well over 100 miles an hour. Exactly.

Chris - ...and if you hit the water doing that… that’s devastating, isn’t it?

Peter - Yeah. He would have to rotate if he was going to go headfirst into it. But you know these, what's it called... wingsuiting. Have you seen the videos of wingsuiting, going through little holes in rocks?

Chris - Yeah.

Peter - There are people who are actually quite close to not minding if they die. But this guy, he’s achieved something quite special.

Chris - It is amazing. One wonders whether this will become de rigueur in future. This is going to become very much not science fiction anymore, become science fact.

Peter - Yeah. Apparently the reason the military are not that interested in it is because it's too noisy and it takes a lot of training.

Chris - I’m not surprised.

Peter - A lot of dead soldiers potentially getting it wrong.


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