Up, up and away! Jetman achieves world first for Expo 2020’s Mission: Human Flight programme Expo 2020 Dubai and Jetman Dubai have accomplished another world first in their quest to achieve 100 per cent autonomous human flight: a take-off from the ground, transitioning into a high-altitude flight.
On Friday 14 February, Jetman pilot Vince Reffet successfully launched into the air from the runway of Skydive Dubai and flew up to 1,800m altitude. This milestone proved that Jetmen can now fly directly upwards from a standing start without the need for an elevated platform. Reffet was equipped with a carbon fibre wing powered by four mini jet engines.
Controlled by the human body, the equipment enables the Jetman to reach speeds of 400kmh, as well as hovering, changing direction and performing loops. After becoming airborne at the aerial centre by Jumeirah Beach, Reffet hovered five metres above the waters of the Arabian Gulf for 100 seconds. Having demonstrated his full control of the flight by performing stops, turns and backward moves, he landed smoothly back onto the Skydive Dubai runway.
Reffet then took off again and headed south towards Jumeirah Beach Residence, building speed and height. Travelling at an average speed of 240kmh, he climbed 100m in the air in eight seconds, 200m in 12 seconds, 500m in 19 seconds and 1,000m in 30 seconds.
At the end of his three-minute flight, Reffet performed a roll and a loop at 1,800m altitude, before opening his parachute at 1,500m and landing back at Skydive Dubai. Previously, Jetmen have launched into the air by leaping downwards off elevated platforms such as a helicopter in flight. This included a jaw-dropping stunt in late 2019 – also part of Expo 2020’s Mission: Human Flight programme – as Reffet and fellow Jetman Fred Fugen soared through Tianmen Cave (aka ‘Heaven’s Gate’) in China’s Hunan Province.
This is the first time that a Jetman pilot has combined hovering safely at a low altitude and flying aerobatics at a high altitude in the same flight. Three engineers – Mohammed Rashid Chembankandy from India, André Bernet from Switzerland and chief engineer Matthieu Courtois from France – developed the pioneering technology that helped make this stunt possible. Together they built and adjusted a manually controlled thrust vectoring nozzle that allows the pilot to control rotations around the yaw axis at zero speeds, making human control of the wing possible in all flight phases without the aid of any electronic stabilisation systems.
Their research, supported by Expo 2020 Dubai, has also focused on drastic risk reduction by studying speed profiles, engine parameters and flight attitudes. Should an engine failure have occurred at low altitude, Reffet was backed by a pyrotechnic safety parachute that reduces the critical phase of his flight to four seconds (when his altitude is between five and 50m).
As always, the health and safety of the Jetman was an absolute priority in this stunt. No fewer than 50 preparatory flights were conducted – comprising more than 100 take-offs and landings under a cable and with the safety of a fall arresting system, as well as in-flight tests next to a helicopter. Shortly after his landing, Vince Reffet said: “We are so happy we achieved this incredible flight. It’s the result of extremely thorough teamwork, where each small step generated huge results. Everything was planned to the split second, and I was overjoyed by the progress that was achieved. It is another step in a long-term project.
One of the next objectives is to land back on the ground after a flight at altitude, without needing to open a parachute. It’s being worked on.” Development will continue in the coming months. Mission: Human Flight has also been training Ahmed Alshehhi, the first Emirati Jetman, as the UAE prepares to welcome 192 nations and millions of global visitors for Expo 2020 Dubai (from 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021). Aysha Al Nuaimi, who is leading the project for Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “We’re delighted to celebrate a landmark moment in the quest to achieve 100 per cent autonomous human flight. It’s fitting that the stunt was performed here in the UAE, the nation of no limits, as Expo 2020 and Jetman Dubai continue to highlight that anything is possible when you combine innovation, passion, creativity and hard work. Held under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, Expo 2020 will be the first World Expo ever hosted in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region since the first edition in London in 1851.
As well as seeking to build a brighter tomorrow, Expo 2020 will be the World’s Greatest Show – featuring A-list music artists, cuisines from across the globe, cutting-edge architecture, future-shaping technologies, cultural entertainment, special celebrations such as Christmas and Diwali, and so much more.
Photo Credit: EXPO Dubai 2020
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