What do the Wright Brothers, Leonardo Da Vinci and Ferdinand von Zeppelin have in common? They've all invented flying machines. Add one more to the list: Stephane Roussoun, inventor of the Aerosail: a motorless zeppelin that flies above water, connected to a hydrofoil. It's lifted by gas and steered by the wind. His goal? A 200km-plus crossing between Nice, France and Calvi on the island of Corsica. Crazy? Maybe. Awesome? Definitely.
Stephane, tell us a little bit about your background...
I did a little bit of everything: a lot of competitive skiing back when I was younger, then I started working in the snowboard industry, repping and developing new techniques and products. I am also a private and airline pilot.
How did you learn to fly a zeppelin? There must not be many schools for that…
I got my private pilot license and airline pilot license between 1999 and 2001, which was pretty much the worst time to become a pilot. I then decided to learn how to fly a zeppelin, something I always wanted to do.
In France, you pretty much have to learn that on your own. You meet people who share their knowledge and you gain credibility as you participate in projects. I had heard of this project of combining a zeppelin with a hydrofoil and I thought it was a genius idea. It had been tested in 1992. They had done a first straight line, and I thought: we have to figure out a way to actually navigate with this and keep the adventure going.
This is pure adventure and innovation: we don’t know the results will be… that is what is fantastic about it!
– Stephane Roussoun
Is the Aerosail your only invention? What motivates you to invent?
I like sports and things that are different. I wanted to do something that had never been done before: crossing the English Channel in a pedal-powered Zeppelin. I spent 5 years on the project: building it and learning to fly the thing. I made two crossing attempts in 2008, but never actually made it precisely to the finish point because of the weather. Then in 2011 I won an innovation award with the Scubster, a muscle-powered submarine following the same principle…
How did you get the idea of a crossing?
I live in Nice, and the island of Corsica is a beautiful place, so why not attempt a crossing? If we want this invention to be useful one day, we have to prove that we can do an actual crossing: it’s the only way. In the future, we might be able to bring some passengers on the crossing, or even make it a sport… Who knows! I do get personal satisfaction with all this, of course, and there is also the pioneer side, the fun and the adrenaline. But I need a bigger, overall goal!
You haven’t been able to attempt the crossing yet: what’s missing?
Sponsors and financial means, of course: it’s a lot of logistics! All the attempts and practices cost a lot of money. We also have to prove that we are serious, that we have experience, that we work with engineers and technicians and that we’ve studied the whole thing. We have to convince the population that we planned it all, that we considered the risks and we have procedures for everything. Plus, the authorities may force us to have one or two safety boats, a certain amount of people on the ground in case of issues… that increases the cost of the overall project!
What exactly takes the most time in such a challenge?
You really have to take baby steps, validating each one to gain credibility and confidence. It takes longer and costs more, of course. But the more financial means we have, the faster we can go with R&D. We do have some means right now, but it’s much slower than it could be. But this is pure adventure and innovation: we don’t know the results will be… that is what is fantastic about it!
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