ABU DHABI // High above Dubai, Yves Rossy is furthering humankind’s ancient dream of being able to fly like a bird.
The 55-year-old Swiss daredevil known as Jetman is an aerial acrobat who flies using a winged jetpack, equipped with mini engines.
He moved to Dubai with his wife late last year with the aim of continuing his dream with the help of local extreme sports promoters XDubai and Skydive Dubai.
“The feeling to fly free like a bird is something completely fantastic, it’s unreal,” Mr Rossy said.
“It’s really something that fills me with emotion, with beauty. It’s a realisation, a life experience. Once you have had the taste of it, you’re addicted for life.”
Mr Rossy’s transformation into Jetman follows a career in aviation that included flying fighter jets and commercial aircraft.
In his spare time he would skydive to satisfy his need for adrenalin, but found the experience unfulfilling.
“It was so frustrating, just to fall,” Mr Rossy said.
Flying fighter jets at the speed of sound provided some thrill, he said, but he wanted to free himself from being confined in a “big box”.
The idea was then born to turn his body into an aircraft and to “stay longer in the air and change the vector, not only downwards”.
“That’s how it all began, and this is now a full-time job.”
In the six years since quitting his job as an airline captain, he has spent his days developing the technology that allows him to fly.
The key is Mr Rossy’s carbon-fibre wing, fixed to his back with a harness and mounted with four kerosene-powered jets, capable of a combined 88 kilograms of thrust.
It allows him to cover distances of up to 55 kilometres. He can achieve speeds of nearly 260kph – up to 177kph moving upwards at an angle of 35 degrees.
“It’s very effective. I can tell you, you feel it.”
Mr Rossy has taken his jetpack around the world, and in 2008 flew across the English Channel from Calais to Dover.
A typical day for him in Dubai includes two flights, beginning in the early hours of the morning to avoid the desert heat.
After examining his flight gear, harness, parachute, helmet, and a physical warm-up to get his legs prepared for a heavy landing, he gets into a helicopter that travels up to a height of about 1,800 metres.
He jumps out then turns on the jets and increases their thrust power with a small hand-held control.
“That’s the magic moment where you change from something that falls to something that flies,” he said.
Arching his body “like a banana” from head to toe allows him to fly horizontally; subtle movements from left to right will change his flying direction.
“I am the fuselage, and the steering controls are my hands, head and legs,” Mr Rossy said.
The flights last about 10 minutes, and include practising complex manoeuvres such as loops and flying in formation with small aeroplanes.
“Then back to reality, you open your parachute and you’re back on the ground, landing as good as possible.”
With his home now in the UAE, Mr Rossy said he was well-positioned to take his project to the next level.
He said the time had come to begin training the next Jetman.
And judging from a recent video posted on his website showing Mr Rossy being trailed by an unidentified jetpack flyer, that process appears to be well underway.
Within 10 years, he hopes to overcome technical obstacles and launch directly from the ground, and also improve his aerobatic abilities.
Long-term, he dreams of a world where people will use jetpacks to travel to work, avoiding gridlock with “three-dimensional” flows of traffic.
But he admits that vision is a long way away.
“The infrastructure that is in Dubai and the spirit is just perfect,” he said. “Everything that seemed impossible 43 years ago is now existing, and that’s the same for me. I can feel that spirit here.
“The future of Jetman is here.”