History of the Rocket Man
Yves Rossy was born in Switzerland on the 27th of August 1959. His father, a railway manager, married a farmer’s daughter. After attending an air show when he was just 13 years old, Yves instantly felt an affinity for flight, deciding that was what he wanted to do when he grew up. Since then, he has harbored a desire to one day fly like a bird.
By the age of 17, Yves had joined the cadet Swiss Air Force and by 20, he was flying for the Swiss Air Force as an elite fighter pilot. Yves’ first aircraft was the Hunter Hawk Aircraft, followed by the Tiger 5. Over the next eight years, he would improve his skills and accrue more flight hours, giving him the opportunity to later be taking control of the elite fighter jet, the Mirage III, and then logging over 1000 flight hours in the Mach 2 fighter Jet.
When interviewed later, Yves would say that the “fighter jets were one of the most memorable, inspirational moments of my life, flying such a magnificent and agile machine at such incredibly fast speeds.”
Before He Became Fusion Man
After Yves’ retirement from his military career, he joined the Swiss International Airlines, and worked his way up from co-pilot flying DC-9s to the commander position of captain, flying Boeing 747s and Airbus carriers. Later, he would obtain certification to fly the massive A380 aircraft.
Now his career was less of a challenge and he spends his time finding ways to feel alive (like what he had felt flying a military aircraft), reminiscing that ever since the air show he’d attended as a boy, he had wanted to fly not just aircraft, but to fly like a bird; and now with the financial capacity to do so, he turned his time and attention to building some prototypes.
During the time he was flying for Swiss Air, he also took up and enjoyed the sport of hand gliding, paragliding, aerobatics, skydiving, and sky boarding and he competed in the World Sky Boarding Championships in 1995. At the event Yves decided to try interchanging a board with a wing, and learnt a valuable lesson that nearly cost his life... The wing flipped over, tangling in his parachute and Yves was to free-fall for ten seconds before pulling his reserve shoot.
Yves Gets Married
Yves married his wife Nadia in the mid–1990s; however, they decided not to have any children together. Around 2000, they separated and Yves when asked if there was anyone else in his life replied, “with my busy schedule and inventing I have little time for anyone else other than my team, sponsors and the quest to create the ultimate jet powered wing that can not only fly horizontally but also vertically and be just like the wings of a bird.”
Yves, still pushing the envelope of flight, doing both dual sports in flying and waterskiing, had more time in his hands after the 2001 collapse of Swiss Air, which resulted in Yves being made redundant. Later, Yves would go on to say that “this was one of the most difficult periods of my life.” After a decade of working as a pilot and Captain for Swiss Air, he found himself jobless and depressed. To relieve this stress and depression, he would find himself in his garage, working on a way to fly horizontally.
A Jetman with Grit
Later, the urban myth of Yves’ revenge on a Swiss banker who foreclosed his airline—Swiss National Carrier—became legendary amongst his colleagues and other fellow pilots. When advised by his crew that one of the Swiss bankers who foreclosed Swiss Air was on his flight, he ordered them off the plane. When the banker refused, a huge argument ensued. The result being that Yves was grounded for a week; however, when asked by the media about the event he recounted, “I have no regrets. We must stand up to these disgusting, arrogant people.”
Yves also teamed up with a German company, Jet Cat, which made engines for model airplanes. At first, Yves attached some small engines to his gliding parachute/inflatable wing, which failed due to lack of rigidly in the sail. Fortunately, by 2004 he had developed his own prototype wing after investing over $190,000. Together, they developed small jet sized engines—the size of a thermo flask—with a thrust of 49 lbs. By attaching four of these engines to the fixed wing (instead of two) Yves was able to fly safely with power, just like a bird, for over 5 minutes at a time. Yves also prototyped and designed a harness to hold him on the wing, which was a major breakthrough as now he could fly as though he was a bird.
Passion for Flying and Inventing
Yves’ passion also found head wind not only physically but also financially. Firstly, the Swiss Aviation Authority did not have a classification for Yves: “They could not decide what I was. With no wing, I was a parachutist. With a wing, I could be a hang-glider. But they had no category for a wing with an engine so, they called me a UFO.” And secondly, Yves was running out of money fast, spending over 25,000 pounds a year on his project; however, with growing interest, the Swiss watchmaker, Hublot, sponsored Yves, providing financial backing to make his dream a reality.
By 2002, Yves had attempted flights over Lake Geneva, which he successfully flew over twice in a single day. The success of the test flights filled Yves with confidence and he set his eyes on the target of being the first—not to glide, but to fly over the English Channel with his own wings.
After more prototyping and testing, by 2004, Yves began to develop a prototype wing with a three–meter wing span. During these times, he focused on both wing rigidity and the aerodynamics of the wing, its wingtips, and also the stability of the wing. Later, this became a 2.4–meter wing span for greater maneuverability.
By 2005, Yves had successfully completed test flights with his new wing and two jet packs located under his wing. These were found needed for both safety and performance.
The culmination of these testing and prototype would be in 2006 at Bex. The test flight lasted 5 minutes and 40 seconds.
A year later, two additional jet packs were added (now a total of four), which would allow Yves to fly and direct the wing simply using the movements of his body to control flight direction. These came after Yves, nearly losing control of the wings during a test flight and jump in 2005, was unable to release and open his parachute until he was 500 meters (1,500 feet) from the ground. The incident caused damage to the set of wings he was prototyping, so by 2007, Yves started over from scratch, redesigning and building a new set of wings and a parachute that would open from 200 meters (the benefit of this was that it allowed Yves to fly lower while still having safety in mind).
Yves had taken the complicated capsule of an aircraft, and all its mechanical parts, and simplified flight into a wing, small jet propulsion, and the ability to direct flight through the movements of the body. As with life and achieving one’s goal, this has never been a direct point to point destination. Yves’ evolution began with free fall, then sky surfing, wind surfing, kite surfing, inflated wing and panels to glide and then designing his own wings and adding jet propulsion to achieve his horizontal flight goal.
The Technology behind the Jetman’s Wings
Over 35 years later since the air show Yves had attended when he was thirteen years old, his dream of flying the most natural way possible unfolded in 2006. He became the pioneer of such flights.
In order to achieve this, Yves kept himself extremely fit. Putting on his suit and wing is already an ordeal in itself. Fire proof suit and boots with extra protection to keep his feet from being burned from the jet engines put an extra weight taken by his legs, including the combined weight of his parachute, engine and wing.
Yves’ wing also has a jettison chute should Yves need to ditch his wing for his own safety. In total, Yves has three parachutes. These being a braking chute, a main chute, and a reserve chute just for Yves in addition to his wings chute.
Yves’ helmet is a technological centre for him—designed and built with sounds indicating certain heights and altitudes for him as well as warning sounds if he is too low and he has not opened his chute (the loudest being at 1,800 feet). All this combined with Yves’ fixed wing is molded and designed specifically for him. Weighing without fuel, his equipment is only 66 pounds however, when fully laden with fuel, it could weigh over 180 pounds—the total weight he carries when jumping out of the back of a plane. To fit himself into the wing, Yves must reverse himself into a gap and then he straps himself in.
The project was completed ten years later with countless of hours reversing conversations, 15 prototypes, the philosophy and motto of safety first, and plan B ready. Yves has successfully taken his jet propelled wing to truly fly like a bird for over ten minutes each flight. As Yves would say, “I direct the flight with nothing but my body and feelings, lifting my neck to go up by pushing it down to dip and decent, it feels like I am flying with nothing but my body and feelings, floating like the wing was a natural part of my body, so much that I don’t even feel it in flight.”
By 2008, Yves was ready to officially announce to the world his investment and life’s calling. With sponsors Hublot Swiss Watch Company and Jet-Cat (the German engineering company), they arranged a media conference and presentation for Yves Rossy AKA the Fusion Man: The first man to fly over the Swiss Alps.
With Yves and his team, foldable carbon fiber wings, and four kerosene jet engines, he was flown up in a skydiver’s plane over 7,500 feet and after a short free-fall, his wings opened out and the engine started.
Yves flew over the Alps reaching speeds of 304 km per hour (187m miles per hour); with a flight that was approximately five minutes in duration. After successfully launching his first official flight and landing safely, to the amazement of the world press, he announced his next feat would be to fly across the English Channel and would one day like to fly the Grand Canyon.
The Jetman Flies Using His Own Wings
In September 2008, Yves launched his campaign to become the first man to self–propel with only a fixed wing across the English Channel. The flight path was to be between Calais in France to Dover in Britain. His successful flight took a total of nine minutes and seven seconds and the event was telecast across 165 countries around the globe as well as in international press. The achievement shot Yves into the limelight. He got sponsorship from Breitling Watches and was labeled as Rocket Man, Jetman, Airman and Fusion Man for both his courageous and pushing the envelope experiments.
Unbelievable Flight Time on a Fixed Wing
A fan–base began to grow quickly around Yves of like–minded enthusiasts who also wanted to try human flight. In 2009, Yves set his goal on being the first man to fly with a fixed wing between Morocco and Spain (the Strait of Gibraltar) and also become the first man in the world to fly between two continents. Yves attempted this after he had redesigned his wing and fuel tanks for extended flight. After reaching about a height of 1,950 meters above Tangier in Morocco with the destination Atlanterra in Spain and with a flight time of approximately fifteen minutes, he was launched. However, due to poor weather conditions, the flight was unsuccessful. Yves was forced to land his wing and himself in the sea, three miles off the coast of Spain where he was rescued by his support helicopter and his wing—with its floating device—picked up by the Spanish Coast Guard.
By 2010 and with more test flights and learning new maneuvers, Yves ever the daredevil flew his newest prototype from a plane, did two mid–air barrel rolls, and then parachuted onto the top of a hot air balloon (flown by Brian Jones) at a height of 2,400m. From there, Yves relaunched himself and flew again with his jetpack and fixed wing going on to land safely.
In 2011, Yves traveled to USA and flew across the Grand Canyon. The press was unfortunately not present for this event as they were not informed of the flight so there are no independent witnesses; however, the flight was filmed and is available on Yves Rossy’s website as well as on YouTube. His sponsors also made a press release about the flight.
Yves Rossy: Fly with the Jetman TED Video
Later, Yves would go on to fly in Rio and land on the beach; he would also fly alongside spitfires in his videos the history of flight. He would also find more international fame and publicity being interviewed by shows such as Top Gear, Stan Lee’s Superhumans, Toni Gardemeister, and TED, now with many of his YouTube views of his flights being downloaded over a million times.
TED Talks put together a video of Yves Rossy's flying skills. The video currently has over 700,000 views. TED has this description about the Jetman's epic flights:
"Strapped to a jet-powered wing, Yves Rossy is the Jetman—flying free, his body as the rudder, above the Swiss Alps and the Grand Canyon. After a powerful short film shows how it works, Rossy takes the TEDGlobal stage to share the experience and thrill of flying." Ted.com
The Extraordinary Rocket Man
At the current time, Yves is working on a prototype that has enough thrust to safely take off from the ground and popularizing more about what he is doing and making it accessible to other adrenaline seeking individuals, with safety foremost in mind.
Yves Rossy, AKA, Rocket Man is extraordinary. From a dream to doing the work with persistence, and against physical, financial, government red tape and bureaucracy, he has shown that anything is possible—even human flight like a bird.
- 2010: Adventure Film Festival Jury President
- 2009: Inductee of American Society of Experimental Test Pilots
- 2009: Received the Faust A.G. Award (given to a person or a group that has been taking challenges or trying to do the impossible in several areas)
- 2009: Best Adventurer Award for being a person or a group that gave people around the world a dream, courage, and impression by their remarkable adventure over the past year
- 2009: Jean-Marc Award at the International Adventure Film Festival of Dijon
- 2009: Awarded Air League Award as the first man to fly across the English Channel on a “jet-powered wing”. Yves Rossy covered a distance of 35 kilometers in 13 minutes.
- 2008: Awarded the Prix André de Saint-Sauveur Award for succeeding in a remarkable and uncommon performance
- 2009: First person ever to attempt to fly between Morocco and Spain by jetwing
- 2008: First man to fly with a winged jet over the Swiss Alps.
- 2006: First man to fly with no instruments or controls, just using his body to direct flight (after ten years of prototypes achieving a flight of 5 minutes and forty seconds
- 1996: Guinness World Record, sky surf from top of a hot air balloon
- 1996: Guinness World Record. Held between two biplane wings in flight.