"Jet Man" Crosses English Channel Like a Human Rocket

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(Watch video of Rossy's debut flight over the Alps in May 2008.)

Fly Like a Bird

Like many other aviation enthusiasts before him, Rossy—also known as Fusion Man—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.

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 Friday'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 French inventor Louis Blériot 99 years ago, when he became the first person to fly an airplane across the English Channel.

How the Jet Wing Is Made

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

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

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

At 5 inches (13 centimeters) across, Jet Man's turbines are much smaller than conventional jet engines, although the mini-turbines 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 Jet Man's speed. The next is a large one that stops him from 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," Alain Ray of ACT Composites said. "Afterward he said, Never again."

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