Swiss aerial daredevil Yves Rossy, aka “Jetman” on Saturday morning has completed his latest feat successfully, leaping from a helicopter to hurtle across the Grand Canyon using his unique strap-on, jet-powered personal aeroplane before descending to land by parachute.
“My first flight in the US is sure to be one of the most memorable experiences in my life, not only for the sheer beauty of the Grand Canyon, but the honour to fly in sacred Native American lands,” Mr Rossy said in the statement. “Thank you Mother Nature and the Hualapai Tribe for making my lifelong dreams come true.”
The statement – released three days later by sponsors from the Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling – said Mr Rossy was “launched” from a helicopter at 8,000 feet, then streaked over the rim of the canyon at speeds of up to 190 miles per hour before deploying a parachute to land safely on the canyon floor eight minutes later.
At Breitling’s invitation, a large group of reporters, photographers and television camera crews had flocked to the remote site in northeastern Arizona on Friday for what the company said would be a public exhibition of Mr Rossy’s attempt to fly over the canyon.
But by day’s end, the media were told that Rossy had cancelled his flight due to last-minute delays in obtaining approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, leaving him too little time for a practice run.
The flight he made the next day, with few observers present but his own support team, ended up being his only attempt due to changing wind conditions, said Rachel Jones-Pittier, a spokesman for the public relations firm Breitling hired. “There was no secrecy or anything like that intended,” she said. “It just happened that we were unable to invite any media back out there for a replacement event.”
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency only became aware of Mr Rossy’s plans days earlier through the media and worked hard to get the necessary clearance for his jet-powered wing, which “doesn’t fit neatly into any aircraft category.”
“Mr. Rossy was authorized to fly on Friday and Saturday,” Mr Gregor said. “We do not know if he actually flew on Saturday.” Ms Jones-Pittier acknowledged that no one from independent media organisations was on hand to witness the flight.
The footage shows a man with a winged jet pack and helmet dropping out of a helicopter at high altitude, then cuts to shots of a winged figure streaking over rugged landscape at some distance. But the authenticity of the still photos and video could not be independently verified.
One witness was Robert Bravo, 47, chief executive of the Hualapai tribe-owned Grand Canyon Resort Corp, who told Reuters he watched the stunt with his son and daughter, aged 14 and 20. “You could see him come out of the helicopter … he was so small compared to the grandeur of the canyon,” Mr Bravo recalled. “I was in awe the whole time I was watching him.”
Rossy’s previous feats have included a flight across the English Channel and an unsuccessful bid to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. This latest stunt was seen as more dangerous, as Rossy might have had to land by parachute on some inhospitable terrain in the event of a mishap.
Problems with the unique backpack aeroplane – latest in a long line gradually refined by Rossy and his team over the years – have been frequent, with the intrepid Swiss forced to jettison his wing and parachute down following crackups and losses of control on many previous occasions. At first these setbacks generally meant total destruction for the wing-pack, but in recent years it has been fitted with its own parachute, allowing a soft setdown.
The novel personal aircraft has no controls or instruments except a grip throttle and an audible altimeter: Rossy is the only man alive who can fly it, by shifting his head and body, and his past record indicates that even he has perhaps not yet achieved total mastery of his machine. He has to wear flameproof trousers in flight to avoid suffering burns from the jet exhaust.
The dashing birdman has previously discussed plans for a wing with enough power to make a vertical takeoff (and even perhaps a landing): the current machine on its own boasts a thrust-to-weight ratio of greater than one, but not once the weight of the pilot is added. [via The Telegraph (UK) and CBC (CA)]