Yves Rossy: A Modern-Day Daedalus
Ovid’s legendary tale of Daedalus and Icarus and their wings of feather and wax shows how flying has intrigued humans for as long as we have existed. Now, Swiss pilot Yves Rossy has achieved the first human winged flight. With a long career as a pilot behind him, Rossy is practiced in aerobatics, hang gliding, paragliding, skydiving—but his dream was to fly without being enclosed in an aircraft. After years of dedicated development and with the help of sponsors, he succeeded in building prototype wings, but they’re not made of wax. They are constructed from light, strong carbon fibre and fitted with four kerosene-fuelled jet engines, but they won’t allow him to take off from the ground. Rather, Rossy is flown up several kilometres, then drops out of the plane with the wings strapped to his back—and after a short freefall, the rigid 2.5 metre wings unfold and the flying begins. The jet turbines allow Rossy to accelerate to speeds of over 300 km/h, and uses his body to change position and control his flight—performing stunts such as dives, figure-eights, and 360-degree barrel rolls. In 2006 he became the first man in the history of aviation to fly with jet-propelled wings, and his subsequent flights took him over the Swiss Alps and the English Channel. But considering that his sponsors poured over $200,000 into his prototype, it’s safe to say his design won’t be commercially available any time soon.