This isn't the type of stuff you see every day: three flying men – Yves Rossy, Vince Reffet and Fred Fugen – flying a set of rigid, jet-propelled wings in formation with eight of the Patrouille de France Alpha Jets aerobatic display team, ambassadors of the French Air Force.
No, this isn't the latest Hollywood blockbuster trailer: it's a world first!
What a fantastic experience for us, as pilots, to be able to fly in formation with these menChristophe Dubois, Squadron Leader, Patrouille de France
Not just visually impressive, this stunt is also the perfect showcase of the precision and rigourous skills of the pilots, as well as the incredible flying abilities of the jetmen. We caught up with Reffet and Fugen to try to find out a bit more about what goes on behind a stunt like this:
A thing of beauty
What’s the biggest challenge of flying like this, in formation with the planes?
VR: It’s the coordination between all elements. It was the first time that we were flying with that many elements in the sky: There were eight Alpha Jets, three Jetmen, two helicopters that were dropping us, plus two more Alpha Jets who were there as a backup for videos, and one extra stunt plane, which means there were 16 elements in the air!
How far are you flying from the planes?
FF: At the closest point, we were at about five metres, for a few moments.
A great demonstration of flying skills
What kind of preparation goes into a stunt like this?
FF: When you start flying, you fly solo. Then you can start the formation with two people. Then when we trained to fly in formation, we trained with the helicopter from which we jumped. We jump from the heli, then it starts going forward at 100 knots (185kph) on a straight trajectory and then we fly beside it, working on precision and formation flights. The biggest difference with the Patrouille de France was the speed, because we were at much higher speeds. We were flying at 145 knots (about 270kph).
We didn’t have much of a margin: we were going quite fast, and they were at a very slow speed compared to what they can go up to.
Adjusting the speed
Is it pretty much the maximum speed at which you can go as a Jetman?
FF: With Jetman, when we’re at 150 knots, we’re pretty much at our top speed. Then we can accelerate a little bit but that means there are no more margins. For us, 145 knots, was the top speed at which we could still have a little bit of a margin to be able to accelerate.
Not your usual aeroplane formation
How did you set up the project?
FF: We got in contact with the director of the Patrouille de France. The good thing is that he used to be a skydiver, he has a true passion for freefall and flying in general, so he knew quite a bit about the Jetman project already. He also wanted to fly with us, so he was the one to organise everything and get all the authorisation.
We had two flying days with the planes: the first day we had two flights with two Alpha Jets and then the second day we did two flights with the whole Patrouille de France. When we did the first tests, mainly to test the speeds, he was in the planes, he was flying one.
What’s next for Jetman? What are your dreams?
VR: We have quite a bit of stuff coming. We had a big project this summer, which we can’t talk too much about for the moment, but that should come out soon.
FF: Aside from that, we would love to go to space with our motorised wings,