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'Jetman' zooms along rim of Grand Canyon in first US flight

Jetman, aka adventurer Yves Rossy, hit 190 m.p.h. Saturday as he flew with a jet-pack above the Grand Canyon. Where some see self-promotional stunt man, others see a boundary-breaker.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / May 11, 2011

In this photo, Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy is seen during his flight over the Grand Canyon in Arizona on Saturday, May 7, in his custom-built jet suit.

Alain Ernoult/Breitling/AP

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He calls himself Jetman.

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Harnessed into a six-foot-wide, 45-pound carbon-fiber wingpack shaped like a boomerang with a raised fin, Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy pulled off his first escapade in the United States on Saturday, shooting along the rim of the Grand Canyon for about eight minutes before opening his parachute and wafting down to the canyon floor.

It was a spectacle, to be sure – and the ride will definitely end up on YouTube. But whether Jetman's performance qualifies as a publicity-seeking stunt of the "balloon boy" variety or a quest to expand the limits of human endeavor, well, that depends on the beholder.

IN PICTURES: Jetman

As for Mr. Rossy, he portrays his winged adventures as a bid to push the envelope of human flight.

“I built this wing to realize my own dream: to fly like a bird,” he says in an interview released by his Beverly Hills-based marketing firm, Centigrade Inc. “Flying is a passion. I always wanted to fly since I am a child. My inspiration has always been to realize my dream.”

Rossy does not exactly float through the air like a bird; he rockets along at 35 to 50 miles per hour. For his Grand Canyon adventure, he hit 190 m.p.h., his promotional team said. He steers with a gentle turn of his head and arms. Jetman has already traversed the English Channel and the Alps, but he ended up in the waves when he tried to cross the Straits of Gibraltar in November 2009.

A former fighter pilot and captain for Swiss International Airlines, Rossy has been developing and refining his wings and jetpack for more than 15 years. The wings started out as inflatables and have morphed into a solid wing that folds out. Four Jet-Cat P200 engines run on kerosene.

Rossy typically takes off inside a Pilatus Porter plane, puts the wings on his back and turns on the engines while inside the plane. He then jumps out at about 1.5 miles and flies for about 10 minutes. When he is out of fuel – tanks hold between four and eight gallons – he opens his parachute and tries to land with the wind at his back. Crew aboard nearby airplanes or helicopters film his escapades and post them on YouTube.

On his Grand Canyon flight, Rossy launched from a helicopter at 8,000 feet and flew about 200 feet above the rim of Grand Canyon West. Media representatives and vicarious thrill seekers jammed into a special media vantage point atop the canyon rim to watch.

Some analysts put Rossy in the same category as boundary-pushers such as Richard Branson and Steve Fossett. Humans have wanted to leave terra firma for millennia, they say, and, gradually, inventors from Leonardo da Vinci to the Wright brothers have ratcheted up the ability to do so. Rossy follows in this same tradition, they say.

Others put him in the category of stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel, who made a living thrilling audiences by jumping over buses and cars.

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