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Frank Zapata flyboard

JET THREAT

Meet Zapata, the rifle-wielding hoverboard inventor

Technology

Is this hoverboard a glimpse of the future? Or, now that inventor Frank Zapata is waving an assault rifle around while riding it, a glimpse of our own destruction?

When French inventor Franky Zapata first uploaded videos of the Flyboard Air to YouTube, opinions were divided. Some people scoffed at his jet-powered hoverboard and said it was a hoax. Others raved that it was, “Some Green Goblin shit!”

Now though, after a year of public demonstrations of his Flyboard, he has took things a step further at this year’s Bastille Day celebrations by flying over a crowd including President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and whatever Theresa May is, whilst wielding an unloaded assault rifle.

The truth is for all his crowd-pleasing antics, Zapata has always had one eye on selling the military possibilities of his invention.

Last year the oddball Frenchman demo-ed his hoverboard at the French Grand Prix and Le Mans, demonstrating that the Flyboard Air is very much a thing.

Decked out in a suitably-villainous black helmet, Zapata, a former jet ski champion, surfed over the spectators, prompting a collective ‘mon dieu!’ from the sea of smartphones below.

His terrifying – but admittedly very cool – invention is essentially a platform containing four thruster engines that generate a combined 1,000bhp. Top speed is 93mph and each flight lasts about 10 minutes. A handheld lever controls thrust and elevation, allowing for spectacular twists and turns (hence comparisons with the Green Goblin’s Slider).

Despite the inherent danger, Zapata claims it’s ”the safest, easiest, lightest, most manoeuvrable personal aviation system ever created.” If one engine conks out the other three will compensate; if two engines fail the Flyboard Air will make a ‘controlled descent’. 

But hang on, what’s in that massive backpack? No, it’s not a parachute – it’s a tank containing five gallons of jet fuel! Stopping to light up a Gitanes mid-way to the office would probably be a bad idea.

Transforming oneself into a millennial Icarus won’t come cheap, either. The Flyboard Air is said to cost around £200,000, meaning it’s likely to become just another way for individualistic Silicon Valley billionaires to prove their supremacy over the rest of us.

So to the military aspects. From the start there were sinister aspects to his pitch, with Zapata’s website saying that it’s “possible” that the Flyboard Air could be armed, although none of its “current customers have asked for this integration.” What about firing a weapon from one? “It is possible and is part of some of our customers’ development strategy,” says Zapata. 

Once the military has fully explored the hoverboard’s battlefield potential, and with this latest demo they may well be taking it seriously, it may well be part of future warfare. Or if the aviation authorities approve it, it may just remain the plaything of Justin Bieber and few lucky billionaires – they’re usually quite stable people so nothing to worry about there.

As for commuting to work on this baby in mass market versions, it’s probably never going to happen. As Steve Jobs sagely pointed out, switching from bicycles to flying cars or jet-powered skateboards would require us to rebuild every city in the world.

But, while Zapata’s hoverboard is as undemocratic, impractical and dicey as all the others, it is a pretty cool shorthand for human optimism.

After all, ‘The Future’ won’t officially start until we get a true working jet-pack.

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