for National Geographic News
Tomorrow Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, aka the Jet Man, is slated to attempt to rocket into the history books by becoming the first person to fly across the English Channel using a single, jet-propelled wing attached to his back.
On live television, Rossy will jump from a plane about 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) above Calais, France, unfold his wing, fire up the jets, and attempt to cross the 20 miles (32 kilometers) over water to Dover, England (see map).
The machine should propel him at about 118 miles (190 kilometers) an hour, making it a 12- to 15-minute trip.
Failure is not an option, as the Channel is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, and Rossy's jet pack is not designed for landing on water.
"He will be wearing a fireproof flight suit [and] 120 pounds [54 kilograms] of wings, fuel, engines, and parachutes, so staying afloat for any length of time could be difficult," said Tom Benson, an aeronautical engineer at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
(Watch video of Rossy's debut flight over the Alps in May 2008.)
Rossy's support team is confident that he can carry out his Channel-hopping feat—but that likely won't stop them from biting their fingernails when he sets off.
"The first five seconds will probably define whether he is going to make it or not," said Markus Zipperer, an engineer with the German company JetCat, which helped build the machine.
"The biggest challenge for him is to get into a stable flying configuration once he has left the plane."
Fly Like a Bird
Like many other aviation enthusiasts before him, Rossy wanted to find a way for people to get as close as possible to flying like birds.
He started working on the project about 15 years ago, building prototypes in his garage. He first created an inflatable wing that enabled him to glide, but Rossy was really after powered flight.
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