"Jet Man" to Set Flight Record Over English Channel

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With the help of JetCat and Swiss firm ACT Composites, Rossy built a prototype and began improving upon his jet-wing design.

A few weeks ago he carried out his longest flight yet, covering 22 miles (35 kilometers) in 12 minutes, but tomorrow's scheduled event will be the first time he will try to cross a major body of water.

The 49-year-old Swiss pilot will be following the route taken by Louis Blériot 99 years ago, when he became the first person to fly an airplane across the English Channel.

Although Blériot's route is the shortest, Rossy could be hampered by winds blowing from England toward France.

"With a trailing wind, he can fly farther across the surface than with no wind using the same amount of fuel," said NASA's Benson, who is not involved in the attempt.

"With a headwind, he will fly a shorter distance across the surface before exhausting his fuel. With a crosswind, he could be pushed off course, again making the crossing distance longer."

Already the weather has forced Rossy to delay his flight by a day, and the team has an additional three-day window of opportunity if unfavorable conditions persist.

"The best conditions are likely to be a calm, cold day when the air density is high. This will assist the wing and the jets to produce more thrust," said Glenn Martin, a jet pack inventor from Christchurch, New Zealand.

When the attempt happens, it will air live on the National Geographic Channel Web site. (The National Geographic Channel is part owned by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

Composite Craft

In the version of the craft Rossy will use for the Channel crossing, the wing has four jet engines linked by digital processing equipment.

"If one engine fails, the digital signal ensures that its opposite pair is shut down in half a millisecond," said JetCat's Zipperer.

"Otherwise his wing would go into a flat spin."

At 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) across, his turbines are much smaller than conventional jet engines, although they use the same type of fuel.

"We use very fast motors and have developed special parts to ensure that the jet fuel is vaporized and burned completely," Zipperer said.

The craft is constructed from three main materials: carbon fiber to provide a lightweight but strong wing, glass fiber to mold it into an aerodynamic shape, and Kevlar to protect Rossy should an engine explode.

"The turbines run at a very high revolution per minute. If there was a fracture, there is a danger that metal parts would leave the engine and hit Rossy," Zipperer said.

"The Kevlar encases the engines and acts like a bulletproof vest."

In flight, Rossy uses his shoulders, head, and arms to steer the wing.

To land he has to deploy a series of parachutes while at a height of at least 1,800 feet (550 meters).

The first parachute is a small one that reduces his speed. The next is a large one that stops him going forward and enables him and his wing to float safely to the ground. This dual parachute system prevents a sudden halt.

"On one of the previous prototypes Rossy used only one parachute," noted Alain Ray of ACT Composites. "Afterward he said, Never again."

In addition to good winds, Rossy needs ground visibility from 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) for the flight to be cleared.

He and his team are keeping a careful eye on the weather, and the flight will only go ahead if the winds and visibility requirements are suitable.

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