Video: Franky Zapata survives whirling jetboard crash

Franky Zapata piloting the Flyboard Air at high speed in 2016.  Zapata Racing

Zapata’s Jetboard Air is a remarkable device, a personal flight platform with a small jet turbine at each corner, fueled by a backpack full of kerosene. The pilot rises into the air on a column of roaring thrust, boots locked into the board, controlling motion mainly via body balance.

This came naturally to Zapata, as a former jet ski champion – indeed, Zapata first invented the flyboard as a jet ski attachment flying on water jets, before shocking the world by taking it off its tethers with a set of JetCat turbines, flying it on kerosene and creating a true hoverboard capable of crazy speeds and impressive distances.

                                  willingness to fly over ground at high
                                  speed has drawn criticism in the past

Zapata’s willingness to fly over ground at high speed has drawn criticism in the past.  Zapata Racing

Zapata has been more than happy to demonstrate the Flyboard Air wherever possible, occasionally drawing criticism for what some consider to be a rather cavalier approach to safety. A few years back, for example, he starred in a viral video by devinsupertramp, racing against a Lamborghini at speeds over 100 mph (160 km/h), with nothing but the rocky Utah desert to cushion his fall if something was to go awry. It didn’t, and the footage is undeniably spectacular.

Yesterday, something did go wrong. Performing at a seaplane show in Biscarosse, France, Zapata lifted off from his elevated platform by a lake, and immediately began to spin, as if one of the Flyboard’s jets was malfunctioning. It took Zapata about 10 seconds to stop rising, reaching an altitude we’d estimate at well over 20 m (66 ft). He did an admirable job of keeping the jetboard upright as it began to fall, spinning faster and faster before crashing down into the water, as you’ll see in the video below.

Crash impressionnant de @frankyzapata aujourd’hui au meeting aérien de #biscarrosse Heureusement il est tombé dans l’eau et devrait s’en sortir je l’espère sans trop de soucis. #frankyzapata #biscarrosse #crash

It’s incredibly lucky, or perhaps a testament to Zapata’s skill, that he managed to get the thing out over the lake before crashing – if it had spun off in a different direction the results could have been much more serious.

As it was, the 40-year-old Zapata was conscious when emergency services pulled him out of the lake and took him to a hospital for observation and assessment. He appeared to be in excellent humor when he later addressed the incident in his own tweet.

Franky Zapata


Roughly translated, it reads as follows: “Good evening everyone. Thank you for your messages, I’m fine. This reminds us that we’re not birds, and that if we’re not excellent, it’s gravity that wins. Finally, a good Sunday of rest, and Monday it starts again! We can only learn from mistakes, and we shouldn’t think we can change mobility without making a few! Thanks to my rescuers, you made sure I didn’t ‘drink from the big cup.’ I’m sorry for the public, who were inconvenienced, but I promise this is only a postponement!”

This isn’t the first time the Flyboard Air has landed Zapata in the drink – he’s taken an unscheduled bath at least once before, when choppy conditions made it impossible for him to land on his support boat for refueling during an attempt to cross the English Channel. It’s certainly scarier, though, to crash due to apparent equipment failure, and from such a height. We’re very relieved to hear Zapata wasn’t seriously injured and will live to continue refining and developing his jetboard technology.

Source: “Alex” (Twitter)

Derek Howe
Great job on his part. But he’s playing with fire, eventually, he’ll get burned.

This is the problem when you use jets for propulsion. Jetcat’s roots were established in the model aircraft industry, and model aircraft turbines often flame out.
I love what this man has done and his flights are always breathtaking. But its time to step up the game to electric turbines for safety’s sake.
Jetcat can start to sponsor him electric turbines as this is a matter of a life or death situation.

Brian M
Unfortunately anything that relies on the fully functional thrust components to stay in the air is going to be inherently dangerous, other flying devices such as helicopters have auto-rotation, planes wings and even quadcopters can survive with an engine out if programed right. But this seems to have a single failure mode.
Although great piloting here, its not somethign that is going to take off (pun intended) as a general means of safe reliable transport.
Guess emergency parachutes won’t work due to the low altitude and weight/bulk.

Does he have a pilots permit for that thing? Are the engineers who check it after every hour of flight CAA certified?
What happens when he crashes into a person or a dog?
(I love the way in the video a woman says “plouf”. Translation: splash.

I think a jetboard needs to have at least 4 jet engines so that failure of a single engine would not be a big problem!
Also, how about adding a computer controller for self-balancing/stabilization, just like all quadcopter drones have?
Not to mention, the pilot suit maybe fitted w/ airbags?

Zappa has been playing it fast and loose for a long time – I think it would be advisable for him to use industry practices for safety. He has not and it almost killed him.. I hope he learns from this!

Doesn’t look too bad. But as others have said, there should be some kind of backup system.

Adding a failsafe on gas turbines is problematic as they react slowly, only electrics can act near instantly.
The solution is simple.
Time to upgrade to electric motors.

nick101 –
A rather unforgiving pastime.

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