BEX, Switzerland – A Swiss pilot strapped on a jet-powered wing and leaped from a plane Wednesday for the first public demonstration of the homemade device, turning figure eights and soaring high above the Alps.
Yves Rossy’s performance in front of the world press capped five years of training and many more years of dreaming.
“This flight was absolutely excellent,” the former fighter pilot and extreme sports enthusiast said after touching down on an airfield near the eastern shore of Lake Geneva.
Rossy, 48, had stepped out of the Swiss-built Pilatus Porter aircraft at 7,500 feet and unfolded the rigid eight-foot wings strapped to his back before jumping.
Passing from free fall to a gentle glide, Rossy then triggered four jet turbines and accelerated to 186 miles per hour, about 65 miles per hour faster than the typical falling skydiver. A plane that flew at some distance beside him measured his speed.
The crowd on the mountaintop below gasped and cheered.
Steering with his body, Rossy dived, turned and soared again, performing what appeared to be effortless loops from one side of the Rhone valley to the other. At times he rose 2,600 feet before descending again.
After one last wave to the crowd the rocket man tipped his wings, flipped onto his back and leveled out again, executing a perfect 360-degree roll.
“That was to impress the girls,” he later admitted.
Rossy said after Wednesday’s five-minute flight, he is ready now for a bigger challenge: crossing the English Channel this year.
So far Rossy and his sponsors, including the Swiss watch company Hublot, have poured more than $285,000 and countless hours of labor into building the device. He would not estimate how much his device would cost should it ever be brought to market.
But, he believes similar jet-powered wings will one day be more widely available to experienced parachutists ready for the ultimate flying experience.