Meet Jetman - The man who conquered Dubai's skies

EDGAR speaks to the incredible Yves Rossy, aka Jetman.

Peter Iantorno July 23, 2015

Thirteen thousand feet above the Skydive Dubai drop zone, a light aircraft spits out what look like two more on the conveyor belt of pleasure jumpers to descend over the picturesque Palm Jumeirah. As the pair plummet towards the ground at a rate of knots, just when any normal skydiver's parachute would be opening, it suddenly becomes clear that these two are far from normal skydivers.

On closer inspection, instead of a parachute, it appears that the jumpers are, in fact, wearing wings. Not only that, but these wings are equipped with two little engines on each side, which soon cough and splutter into life, turning the pair's rapid descent first into a smooth glide and then, incredibly, into a steep incline. There is no other way to describe it – they are flying.

“It is an unreal feeling,” says Yves Rossy, the man simply known as Jetman, who is leading the pair in formation. “We don’t have feathers, so to be free like that and steer just with your body moves, it’s like skiing three-dimensional.”

The stunning flight continues, as Rossy and his flying partner head inland, winding through the urban jungle that is Downtown Dubai straight towards the Burj Khalifa. In an incredible show of speed and agility, they tear past the iconic building, missing its facade by mere inches, as they circle higher and higher before dramatically swooping towards the ground.

As one would imagine, to achieve this astonishing feat of human flight takes an incredible amount of skill and focus. “We are quite concentrated,” says Rossy, who has been working on his spectacular winged invention for the best part of two decades. “It is fun and everything, but behind that there is a lot of work, a lot of concentration.”

Rossy started out as a professional pilot, but he was soon drawn into the world of skydiving and got such a thrill from free falling that he racked his brain in search of ways to prolong the experience. Despite a whole host of failed attempts and destroyed prototypes, Rossy would not be beaten.

“It was really challenging at the beginning,” he says. “Many times I had to abandon the wing mid-flight and it was completely destroyed. I had big doubts that I would ever succeed, but from the moments of success that I did have, those moments were so good that is what I remember. That is what makes us so different from animals. We remember the good times more than the bad.”

Dubai is a fantastic place... it is a crazy place.

After a tough 20 years of development, Rossy has finally cracked the wing design, which allows him to fly for up to 13 minutes at a time, at speeds of up to 180km/h on ascent and 300km/h on descent, and for him, the only way to describe the feeling is ‘pure perfection’.

“It’s only beauty. It is one of those perfect moments when you are completely full of emotion, almost crying. It’s just WOW!” he tells EDGAR in a private chat after a suitably glitzy press conference in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.

Said gathering was called for Yves to make a very special announcement: what was for so long a one-man operation had just become two, as he had spent the past six years training the now-30-year-old base jumping champion Vince Reffet to follow in his footsteps and become the next Jetman.

“It is a great honour to work with Yves,” a beaming Reffet tells EDGAR after the announcement. “He is the guy I always looked up to as a kid, so for him to teach me what he does – it's just incredible.”

The pair have now both moved to Dubai, where they will continue working on the Jetman project – with the ultimate aim to perfect human flight from standing – and according to Rossy, there really is no better place for that to happen. “Dubai is a fantastic place,” he says. “You look at all these towers, these buildings, the traffic, the people and the diversity. It is a crazy place.

I live my life by no rules. Freedom. I am an explorer of margins.

“Someone told me Dubai is like a big airport lounge – so many different cultures – and it’s really true; there are different cultures, religions, so much tolerance and open-minded spirit. Dubai is a very young country, and you can compare it to a very young person who wants to discover the world and new possibilities. Europe is older and wiser, but they always ask ‘why?’ whereas in Dubai they say: 'if it’s fun, OK, let’s go!'”

Clearly happy with his move to the UAE, Rossy is predicting a bright future for his protégé, and the Jetman movement as a whole. “The future for Jetman in Dubai is beautiful,” he says. “We will continue to do new actions with Vince and improve our abilities to fly. There are new wings in preparation, new technologies, aerodynamics and engines are improving. We have carbon fibre, but we are still making it even lighter. We will explore a new dimension. I was alone, now we are two, and there will be more.

“I hope more people in Dubai will be able to get involved in this. But it will only be naturally, just like how Vince got involved. I believe in living my life like this. We have an expression in France 'You cannot balance nuts on a wire' – which means 'don’t try too hard to do things, just let them happen'. Of course, you have to try your best to steer things, but the things that happen naturally are always the best.”

Now aged 55 and with a young pretender waiting in the wings, it would be perfectly understandable if Rossy was thinking of easing up a bit. Is he thinking of hanging up his wings any time soon? “The passion, the little flame inside, never disappears,” he says. “I live my life by no rules. Freedom. I am an explorer of margins.”

We'll take that as a “no” then...