Franky Zapata Wants to Be A Real-Life Silver Surfer

The French inventor’s jet-powered hoverboard is able to fly for 10 minutes on one round of fuel and was recently seen on an ambitious attempt to cross the English Channel.

25.07.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Sharp Magazine
Photo by Sharp Magazine

Ever since Back to the Future II’s hovering skateboard, many have been unable to shake the dream of a fully-functioning hoverboard. A piece of futuristic tech with which you could soaring through the skies like a majestic, mechanised-bird.

Franky Zapata, a French inventor and JetSki champion, has clearly been obsessed by a similar dream. His company, Zapata, has been pioneering advances in watersport technology for the past 20 years, leading to the creation of a ground-breaking ‘hydroflyer’, and later an air-borne, jet-powered, Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) flyboard capable of “unprecedented individual mobility”.


In 2012, Zapata’s water-propelled hydro flyer was released, designed for “leisure and extreme sporting applications.” This works by propelling two streams of water into the water, allowing people to spin, rock backwards and forwards, and do flips. The company credits itself with pioneering the hydroflight sports industry, which it says is now a $200m industry and is celebrated each year through the Flyboard World Cup.

The tech then developed, with the company releasing a water-propelled Jetpack in 2015 — a less demanding, seated position for riders. Then, in 2016, came the Flyboard Air. This uses the company’s balance methodology to direct jet engines to act independently. They say the technology is the “safest, easiest, lightest, most maneuverable personal aviation system ever created,” and are confident that the technology could be used for applications “within the military, industrial, and medical fields.”

A large part of this was demonstrated recently as Zapata flew his Flyboard during the annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron watched on as a helmet-clad Zapata zipped back and forth through the sky, dancing over the heads of truck-mounted heavy weaponry, rigidly-organised soldiers and armoured vehicles — one hand clutching a remote, the other a semi-automatic weapon.

Speaking to Le Parisien, the inventor said that this outing had used 3% of the machine’s capabilities. But his subsequent trip — a wildly ambitious attempt to cross the English Channel, a 22.4 mile stretch of water separating the UK from France — would test “99.9% “ of its capabilities, meaning he would only have a one in three chance of successfully completing the trip.

In the end, the attempt, which took place this week, was unsuccessful. Zapata reportedly missed his landing on a boat for a refuelling — a necessary step to ensure the trip’s success, given the machine’s limited flight time. Zapata had attempted to replicate the success of French aviator Louis Bleriot, the first person to cross the channel in a plane on July 25 1909.

Nevertheless, the technology, which is clearly in its infancy, has the power to revolutionise vast swathes of industry. Its very presence at a military parade shows the French Government’s slightly unnerving interest in making use of the technology with armoured soldiers. And maybe other usages are not so far-fetched — hoverboard-mounted doctors and delivery drivers, or personalised travel for meetings between two adjacent skyscrapers?

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