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'Jetman' lives the dream of flying

updated 7:54 AM EST, Sun December 4, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Swiss pilot Yves Rossy flies with only a set of wings and four small engines
  • He uses the movements of his body to steer in the air
  • Rossy has flown over the Grand Canyon and the English Channel

Editor's note: TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website.

(CNN) -- Yves Rossy calls it "the dream" -- the ancient human yearning to fly like a bird.

Thanks to four tiny jet engines and wings with a span of two meters, the Swiss pilot has lived the dream.

As "Jetman," he's flown over the Grand Canyon, crossed over the English Channel, and, most recently, soared above the Alps in formation with two jet airplanes.

Flying with the 'Jetman'

"I don't have feathers. But I feel like a bird sometimes," he said, in an onstage interview with Bruno Giussani at the TED Global conference in July in Edinburgh, UK. "It's really an unreal feeling, because normally you have a big thing, a plane, around you. And when I strap just these little harnesses, this little wing, I really have the feeling of being a bird."

The suit, including the four engines, weighs 55 kilograms (121 pounds) and enables Rossy to reach speeds of 190 mph. He has no steering control except the movements of his own body. He can ascend by arching his back or dive by hunching his shoulders; he turns by moving his head.

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Rossy, who has piloted commercial jets, got the idea about 20 years ago when he tried skydiving. "When you go out of an airplane you are almost naked ... you have the feeling that you are flying. And that's the nearest thing to the dream. You have no machine around you. You are just in the element."

'Jetman' flies with real jets

The problem? "It's very short and only in one direction."

Developing the Jetman wings enabled Rossy to travel in other directions than simply down -- and to stay in the air longer. He's been aloft for as long as 13 minutes.

Not every adventure has succeeded. He lost control when trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and, deploying a parachute, plunged into the sea.

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Rossy, as a professional pilot, takes precautions. He has two parachutes, and a third for the jetpack-wing assembly -- that's his version of an ejection seat. "I can release my wing when I am in a spin or unstable."

He jumps out of a plane or helicopter to begin his flights, though he hopes eventually to be able to accomplish the riskier feat of taking off from the ground.

"I have the approach of a professional pilot with the respect of a pioneer in front of Mother Nature."

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