The 1989 movie “Back to the Future Part II” can be considered one of the most influential forces in the conceptualization of how future gadgets might work in the 21st Century, especially the year 2015 in which it partly takes place. One featured device that has fired the popular imagination is the hoverboard. Numerous attempts have been made to replicate the tech needed to make a functioning replica, with one being the Flyboard Air, a bulky gas turbine-powered hoverboard with backpack fuel supply invented by watercraft-rider Franky Zapata of France. Having proved the vehicle’s concept via a lake crossing and long-distance coast ride, Zapata made an ambitious attempt to cross the English Channel this Thursday.
As The Verge tells it, that momentous occasion when Franky Zapata would take his Flyboard Air from France to the UK over the English Channel on July 25 ended in disappointment. Zapata’s cross-Channel trip, which he estimated would take 20 minutes including a single refueling stop in the middle of the route, would be terminated halfway when the French inventor failed to land the Flyboard Air on the arranged refueling platform and fell into the water. He managed to come out of the Channel unhurt.
The failure of Zapata’s attempt to fly over the English Channel on his massive hoverboard rig only highlights the real physical obstacles that are faced by the development of the hovering tech, and the vehicle itself. The Flyboard Air’s five turbo engines need kerosene for fuel which must be carried, as stated, on a backpack fuel tank. Even balancing on a midair hoverboard is not as simple as “Back to the Future Part II” makes it look, with Zapata remarking that he needed 50 to 100 hours of practice before he could confidently stand on the Flyboard Air in action.
Another limitation of Franky Zapata’s hoverboard invention was the limited fuel capacity, which necessitated his refueling the Flyboard Air on a platform in the middle of the English Channel. His idea of multiple refueling stops was dashed by the French maritime authorities due to ship traffic in the area, and the one refueling platform they set up was buffeted by waves, causing Zapata to misjudge his landing and fall in the water according to one of his support team members.
Zapata’s first public debut of the Flyboard Air was in early 2016 with the lake crossing, and not long afterwards he set a hoverboard distance record of 2,252 meters along the southern French coastline. It was during his 2019 Bastille Day parade appearance that the inventor announced his bid for the English Channel crossing. His Flyboard Air development has investment from the French military, which is interested in the hoverboard tech as a special-ops platform.
Image courtesy of CNN