French in­ven­tor crosses to Dover on hov­er­board the sec­ond at­tempt

Daily Mail - - News - By Ge­orge Odling

Soar­ing above the Chan­nel at 87mph on a hov­er­board the size of a tea tray, in­ven­tor Franky Za­p­ata made history yesterday.

The in­trepid French­man com­pleted the first suc­cess­ful cross­ing on a fly­board – ten days af­ter his first at­tempt failed when he fell into the sea half­way across.

The 40-year-old left Sangatte beach in Calais at 7.16am to the cheers of a crowd and ar­rived in St Mar­garet’s Bay near Dover only 23 min­utes later, hav­ing nav­i­gated the one of the world’s busiest ship­ping lanes fly­ing at an altitude of less than 100ft to save fuel.

Za­p­ata – who steered his hov­er­board by shift­ing his weight with his legs – de­scribed the cross­ing, which in­cluded a mid­way halt to re­fuel, as ‘mag­nifique’.

Stop­ping to top up had scup­pered the fly­ing French­man’s first at­tempt at the record on July 25, when he slid off the re­fu­elling boat into the waves 12 miles into the 22-mile trip. The in­ven­tor took no chances on his sec­ond at­tempt, us­ing a larger ves­sel to land on and re­fu­elling by swap­ping his back­pack for an­other filled with 42 litres of kerosene.

Za­p­ata, a French army re­servist and former jet­ski cham­pion, lifted an arm in the air in ju­bi­la­tion af­ter land­ing on a small podium on the grounds of The Bay Trust Pines gar­dens on the cliffs over­look­ing St Mar­garet’s Bay.

‘i really en­joyed it,’ he said. ‘Vis­i­bil­ity was not great but af­ter about 10km [six miles] i could see the English coast. i was quite stressed when i had to re­fuel and land on the ship. it was quite big but of course it is mov­ing in the sea so it was quite tricky.

‘i could see the ships in the Chan­nel and had to steer around them. But to see the White Cliffs of Dover was amaz­ing. it was beau­ti­ful. it was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. The main is­sue was my legs. it was quite painful and my legs were shaking to­wards the end be­cause of the stress on them.’

Za­p­ata, who was es­corted by three he­li­copters, added: ‘i did not do this to get in the history books but this is some­thing we

‘My legs were shaking’

will never for­get. I am feel­ing happy and lucky. It was an amaz­ing mo­ment and I am just proud and happy for my fam­ily and friends.’

He built the de­vice, which is pow­ered by five small jet en­gines and can reach an altitude of 10,000ft, from scratch. Be­fore set­ting off, Za­p­ata said he had only a ‘50 per cent chance of suc­cess’ even though he had ‘ab­so­lute con­fi­dence in the tech­nol­ogy’.

He added: ‘It is a boy­hood dream. We want to follow a lit­tle bit in the foot­steps of the pi­o­neers of avi­a­tion.’

Za­p­ata hopes his de­vice will en­ter com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion – for use by the mil­i­tary. The French mil­i­tary re­port­edly gave his com­pany, Z-AIR, a £1.28mil­lion grant.

France’s armed forces min­is­ter Florence Parly con­grat­u­lated Za­p­ata, com­par­ing him to su­per­heroes the Avengers. ‘It’s not the re­turn of Avengers, it’s the re­al­ity,’ she tweeted. ‘Con­grat­u­la­tions to Franky Za­p­ata who man­aged to cross the English Chan­nel aboard his fly­board.’

Za­p­ata re­turned to France us­ing a more con­ven­tional mode of trans­port – by car through the Chan­nel Tun­nel.

Take-off: In­ven­tor Franky Za­p­ata leaves Sangatte yesterday

So far, so good: In mid-Chan­nel, with a he­li­copter es­cort In­trepid: Za­p­ata on the fly­board, its five en­gines pow­ered by fuel from his back­pack Jour­ney’s end: The French­man, cir­cled, flies over the White Cliffs of Dover. Be­low: He cel­e­brates his suc­cess

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