Fri, May 16, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Swiss ‘Fusion Man’ takes to skies

AP , BEX, SWITZERLAND

Some people go fishing on their day off.

Yves Rossy likes to jump out of a small plane with a pair of jet-powered wings and perform figure eights above the Swiss Alps.

Rossy, 48, made his first public flight with his self-made flying contraption in front of the world’s press on Wednesday, after 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.

Half an hour earlier Rossy had stepped out of the Swiss-built Pilatus Porter aircraft at 2,300m, unfolded the rigid 2.5m wings strapped to his back and dropped.

Passing from free fall to a gentle glide, Rossy then triggered four jet turbines and accelerated to 300km an hour as a crowd on the below gasped — then cheered.

His mother, who was among the spectators, told journalists she felt no fear.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Paule Rossy said of her son, who now flies commercial planes for Swiss airlines.

Steering only with his body, Rossy dived, turned and soared again, flying what appeared to be effortless loops from one side of the Rhone valley to the other. At times he rose 800m before descending again.

“It’s like a second skin,” he later told reporters. “If I turn to the left, I fly left. If I nudge to the right, I go right.”

Rossy then performed a stunt he had never before tried.

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 even a bird would find impossible.

“That was to impress the girls,” he said.

Wednesday’s flight nearly never happened. Rossy said his engineers worked until the last minute to fix one of the four kerosene-fueled engines that powered his flight.

He said he is ready now for a bigger challenge: crossing the English Channel later this year.

The stun will test his flying machine to the limit. Rossy said he plans to practice the 35km trip by flying between two hot-air balloons.

“I still haven’t used the full potential,” he said.

Rossy said he has to focus hard on relaxing in the air, because “if you put tension on your body, you start to swing around.”

Should things go wrong there’s always a yellow handle to jettison the wings and unfold the parachute.

“I’ve had many ‘whoops’ moments,” he said. “My safety is altitude.”

Rossy — whose sponsors have dubbed him “Fusion Man” — says his form of human flight will remain the reserve of very few for now.

The price and effort involved are simply too enormous, he says.

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