Hoverboards are here – If You’re Crazy Enough to Try

A new video has been stirring questions on the internet this week. It shows a test of the Flyboard Air, a device that is somewhere between a Back to the Future Hoverboard and Green Goblin’s glider. The video depicts pilot [Frank Zapata] taking off, flying around, and landing an a platform not much larger than a milk crate. Plenty of folks are calling the video a fake. After a few back of the napkin calculations though, we’re coming out to say we think it’s real. Details are few and far between, so much of the information in this article is educated guessing based upon the video.

Here’s our hypothesis: Flyboard Air is a jet powered platform with little or no built-in intelligence. Balance, stability and control are all handled by the pilot. A hand controller simply provides throttle to adjust altitude, take off, and land.

jetfeetLet’s start with the jet powered part. During the video, [Frank] looks down at his board and the water below. Between his sneakers we can see two round openings – which look a lot like jet intakes. At the end of the video, [Frank] flies over the camera. stopping the action shows a split second where four exhaust holes are visible on the bottom of the board. These jets look quite a bit like model aircraft jet engines.

We don’t know exactly which engines [Frank] is using, but as an example, the Jet-Cat P 400 RX-G packs 88 lbs of thrust into a shell less than 6 inches in diameter, weighing less than 8 lbs. Four of those engines would provide 352 lbs of thrust. That’s plenty to lift [Frank], the board, and a few gallons of Jet-A strapped to his back.

Why no built-in intelligence? Even the smallest quadcopters have gyros, accellerometers, and PID loops keeping them upright. The problem boils down to the physics of jet engines. Active stability in a fixed pitch rotary blade system requires very fast throttle response. Quadcopters have this with their brushless motors. Turbines however, have throttle lag on the order of seconds. You can’t beat physics. Accelerating 3 or 4 pounds metal from 78,000 RPM (~70% throttle) to 98,000 RPM (~100 % throttle) takes time.

flyboard1Standing on a column of uncontrolled thrust would take quite a bit of skill on the part of the pilot. As it turns out, [Frank] is one of the world’s most experienced thrust riders. His previous invention, the Flyboard uses a personal watercraft to create a column of thrust which the rider stands on. These boards have become tremendously popular at vacation spots in the last few years. There are plenty of videos on [Frank’s] YouTube channel showing the amount of control a skilled ride has over the board. Loops, spins, and other aerobatics look easy.

With that much skill under his belt, [Frank] would have no problem keeping balanced on four jet engines.

Such a skilled rider means that control wouldn’t really be needed on the board. We’re betting that the only electronics are the remote throttle control and the Engine Control Computers (ECU) needed to keep the jets running and synchronized. The two electric ducted fans on the sides of the Flyboard Air appear to be running all the time, only shutting down when [Frank] lands the board.

One final thought – taking off and landing a jet vertically is difficult. Ground effects destabilize the craft. Engines can suck in their own exhaust, stalling them. These are problems faced by the harrier jump jet and the joint strike fighter. [Frank’s ] solution is not never get too close to the ground. If you watch closely, he takes off and lands from a perforated metal platform mounted off the back of a van. The metal doesn’t reflect enough thrust to cause the Flyboard to become unstable or stall.

So is the video real? We think so. This is an amazing achievement for [Frank Zapata]. Is it practical or safe? Heck no! Nor is it cheap – those engines cost €8,845.00 each.  That said, we’d love a chance to ride the Flyboard Air – after a few hours of training on the original Flyboard of course.

86 thoughts on “Hoverboards are here – If You’re Crazy Enough to Try

    1. Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic but I smell a hoax here as well. First, getting a propulsion system capable of that much thrust into a shoebox size package would be a quantum jump in technology. Second, the control systems necessary to make the flight looks so smooth and effortless would be extremely difficult but not impossible. Both of these don’t break the laws of physics but in a practical, real world way, make this extremely unlikely.
      Regarding the videos, the first one is just too hokey with too many cuts at just the right moments. The facebook video is funny too, in a three dollar bill sort of way. One thing is the water disturbance is inconsistent– sometimes a realistic amount of surface rippling and mist formation and at other times, almost none. And why is the jetski zooming around underneath? To fish him out of the water just in case or to make the videoshopping (is that a word) easier?

      1. Uhm, no hoax here guys. Do some research. There are several miniature gas turbine engines providing thrust. This has been done electrically as well, and already has a place in Guinness. Nothing new here actually. The control systems are well established, and quite affordable. You see very similar systems used on electric multirotors. The same $20 flight controller used on those can be used here, and is likely what they are using. Have you been living in a cave?

          1. They have used mini turbines for a long-board speed record as well… those damn things are very very expensive.
            Read the article again and note that turbines have lag similar to a big turbo. Of course this ride will be smooth. The thrust output should be very very stable and the only thing causing disturbance should be the wind.
            If those things were cheap, and responded faster, you’d see them on hobby drones.

        1. The control system used in electric quad copters would be _extremely_ ill suited for controlling jet turbines. First, as Gryd3 mentioned above, they have a lot of lag. Second they likely impart a lot less rotational force than propellers (I say likely because I have no measured myself). These two things cause a lot of control issues when trying to use turbines for directional control.
          First, altitude control will be difficult to say the least. If the thrust is off by just 10%, the thing will accelerate at 1 m/s^2 in the vertical axis. That will be a lot of bobbing up and down while the turbines spin up an down.
          Second, because the turbines exert little rotational force, yaw control will be difficult– the air comes out of the turbine without much rotation. Quad copters use two sets of counter-rotating propellers. I guess he could have paid for a set of counter rotating turbines, but once again unlikely. I find it hard to believe you can get the rate of yaw changes you see in the video by differential spooling up and down of turbines. At best they would act as reaction wheels– with really high speeds but rather puny moments of angular momentum. Perhaps the small ducted fans on the side are for yaw control but ducted fans don’t provide a lot of force at low speeds. Try holding a ducted fan or two a foot away from the center of rotation and see how fast you can get yourself spinning in half a second (frictionless surface, bearing, or hang from freely rotating rope).
          I imagine we will find out soon enough whether this is real or not and we will probably see it on Hackaday. If this turns out to be true, I will first be amazed and second, I will freely admit that I was wrong.

      2. Small FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) systems have existed since shortly after Kurt Schreckling published the plans for his FD-3 64 micro jet engine. A FADEC can be setup to control the starter motor, oil pump, fuel flow, ignition and everything else required for a pushbutton start plus smooth throttle control and shutdown.

        Some of those micro jets can put out 90 or more pounds of thrust. Put four together, with a custom FADEC to control them, and that’s plenty enough thrust to lift a person plus the vehicle and a couple of gallons of fuel.

        So if you had actually read the article instead of just watching the video then crying “Hoax!” you wouldn’t now be looking so dumb.

      3. ” And why is the jetski zooming around underneath?”

        It is being towed with a piano wire by the hover board, the extra drag keeps the hover board close enough to the water to minimize injury to the pilot in the event of power failure.

    2. 100 years ago a vehicle like a helicopter would be considered “movie magic” to the double digit IQ population, this is the same concept on a smaller scale. Downward thrust = upward motion when the thrust provided is more than the payload. They teach that in first grade these days. From howstuffworks.com:

      “One thing that has characterized the helicopter since its invention in the 1930s has been the absurdity of the machine. The contraption simply looks unable to deliver on its promise, which is to fly up and down, backward and forward, right and left. ”

      Yet helicopters are real, not hoaxes. Just because something is difficult for your tiny brain to conceive does not make it impossible, only complicated.

      1. The originally posted video is hokey as heck, and I dismissed it as such.

        The one posted above by @maartenva is less so. From Flyboard’s own literature it takes ~100 hp from a jetski to lift one rider, so either this is some good CGI or a remarkably compact power source.

        Assuming it’s the latter it sounds like turbines, so the biggest JetCat turbine specs out at 52 lbs thrust max and if you stuffed four of those into the foot-platform you’d have it for a lightweight pilot & gear.

        (http://www.jetcatusa.com/rc-turbines/turbine-details/p200-sx/)

        Plausible, if bloody expensive (pushing $5K each) and thirsty (nearly 3/4 liter fuel per minute each). I don’t want to think about the horrible noise all that would make as it hit the water abruptly.

          1. You are correct, sir – didn’t see those in the current catalog. Anyway, the general idea (expensive “model” turbines) is the important part.

      2. Yeah, jets. I can’t see any fakery and don’t think they need any. He takes off from a sheet of expanded metal so there is no abrupt leaving of ground effect. But what clinches the deal is the safety man is wearing a parachute in case he falls off the launch platform. Who would include that in a fake?

  1. Also, it looks as if there are 2 smaller motors mounted horizontally that help with forward motion and rotation around the vertical. So there must be some logic working away there to coordinate all this.

    1. Those yaw/thrust fans are another confirmation it’s fake. If you look at the yaw acceleration, there is NO WAY fan units that small can rotate the machine, and stop that yaw rotation that fast, let alone provide translational thrust for a GVFW of over 100kg. There are also in a bullshit place – they need to act through the C.G. which is a LOT higher….and C.G. changes horrifically with the “fuel backpack”.

      Do all the thrust to weight balancing you want, there is no way a FADEC or anything else can spool turbine engines up and down that fast to execute inverted pendulum control (which a quad copter doesn’t do).

      Then there’s the thrust vectoring speculation – what’s powering the actuators? And if it is thrust vectoring, why the BS thrusters?

      1. Yaw is probably controlled by thrust vectoring (by angling your feet independently). The original flyboard is controlled this way and is very effective. In fact, it seems fairly straightforward to me to extrapolate the flyboard air from the original, as long as the turbines produce consistent thrust all around, there is not much need for fancy control systems–just a throttle like the original flyboard is enough. I do see the EDFs mounted on it, but I don’t even think they’re necessary.

        I don’t understand what you’re getting at regarding CG. Since thrust is basically on axis with the CG, why does that matter? Have you watched videos of the original flyboard? The good riders have absolutely supreme control, and all they have is a throttle.

        1. After looking closer at the original flyboard, I don’t think there is thrust vectoring. I think yaw is produced by having one jet more off-axis than the other (T=Fd). The same could be done on the flyboard air.

  2. My bet is that the side pods are there for two reasons: 1) to generate a little forward thrust and 2) for yaw control. Unless he can tilt his feet fore/aft independently, which I would think would take even more skill to control. At first I thought it was fake, but with 3 videos up that look pretty convincing for different reasons, I’ve changed my mind. Fake? Maybe not. Really dangerous? You bet. Fun? Heck, yeah.

    Hope he has a good life jacket or can get out of the rig easily if he lands in the water!

    1. Completely different those are usually powered by a jet ski, you can see the water being pushed out the bottom. They are also in resort areas for tourists. This is powered by actual turbofan engines on board the craft no line connected to the ground or water at all.
      Looks amazing and that guy has incredible balance

    1. Good pickup. You can also see them disappear in the next few frames from that point, along the outside of his lower legs. If this were due to heat distortion, then why wouldn’t the same effect be seen with the background at around 1:15 where the backgorund is sharp?

    2. The cloud of hot gas is trailing behind and above the board at that point. I’ve downloaded the 1080p mp4 and looked at it frame-by-frame on a 32″ monitor and this is not faked. There is no sign of wires or overhead stuff. If you were going to do this with CGI you could, but the background and water would have to be at least partially included, and I assure you that I would be able to find the joins. It would also take the sort of computing power that only a big graphics studio has. Anyone who thinks they can tell whether this is fake or not buy watching it on YouTube is fooling themselves.

    3. hubert cumberdale says:
      April 14, 2016 at 6:39 am

      @1:50 the power-lines mysteriously vanish between his legs.

      Are you familiar with heat effervescence refraction? I guess not… You see an inferior mirage is created in the downdraft from the jets as it is very hot. The air moisture “between his legs” is now an inferior mirage making anything behind him appear wavy or not even visible to viewers. The lines are still there but it’s image to the camera is now inferior to the original. Can you see the lines on either side of him not in line with the jets’ exhaust?

  3. We’ve seen the jetpack man, with wings and thrusters attached to his back. We’ve seen a woman pulled up by two electric RC helicopters. Why the skepticism when small jet engines with the required thrust are commercially available?

    1. No skeptic here, but one thing is gliding and one thing is taking off, especially with non winged objects like a hoverboard; the difference in fuel consumption is *huge*. I don’t expect this to become an affordable reality anytime soon, regulations aside. Also, everyone looks at the hoverboard cost when they should really pay attention to its fuel consumption.
      It’s an extremely cool piece of engineering, but for everyday life I would trade it for an electric motorcycle any day.

  4. Let Dan Melonay try this one, he´s so eager to do it. He´ll be enough for a proof-of-concept an unskilled copypaster can be a good skull-ed something. But for a real test, please send Bench Brainoff, assisted with authentic WWII powder boosters (because of the extra drag) from a stolen technology (those already demonstrated their efficiency in gloriously vaporizing their crew). From up there, they will enjoy the HaD paradise: a whole shower of likes, clicks, and skulls, dispensed by 3D printed naked clones of Store Wars robots.They would finally enter the inter-galactic dimensions they pretend…

  5. Hackaday , you pride yourself in educating people in the fields of engineering/technology. Do you see these comments? Please, set them straight. I cannot believe the idiocy displayed here in the disbelief that this is real, and their explanation as to why it cannot be. It is very real , and has also been done electrically, which has a place in Guinness already. The sheer idiocy displayed, considering the vast wealth of knowledge right at their fingertips where a few keystrokes would prove their theories incorrect , is ridiculous.

    1. Honestly I expected this response. There is something about seeing a human fly (mostly) unaided that creates an uncanny valley effect – you brain tells you it has to be fake. Look at the old bell jet belt (and it’s descendants) videos for the same effect. Some folks STILL think those things were movie magic – even though they have flown in front of millions of people over the years.

    2. I’m just glad the guys who design and test real cutting edge aircraft don’t have your poisonous and emotionally stunted attitude.

      I would be more impressed if they showed this machine to Scaled Composites, Boeing or Northrup Grumman engineers. But they don’t, they won’t show their toy to people who can’t be deluded.

      The video I saw on youtube reeks of fraud. Show me the board up close and a unedited video of it taking off, flying and landing and I’ll believe it.

      Even if is valid, the show stopper is carrying 30 lbs of kerosene(4 gallons) in a fuel bladder to get any decent distance and time on it. And what happens in windy weather, say 20-40 mph winds or sudden gusts?

      And the last is of course safety. Can the system work with one engine out and do a automatic emergency landing or do you call the morgue to pick up a dead nerd?

      1. Carrying 15kg of fuel is definitely possible. Doing this stunts without all this safety is also possible, although it is not perfectly sane :-) But that does not yet make this fraudulent. If it is fake, it is not dangerous, if it is dangerous (because somebody IS flying), it is not faked.

  6. The thing everyone should be talking about that isn’t mentioned once: fuel efficiency

    I believe this is real because I was recently shopping for compact turbo fan engines and I also compact water-jet engines.

      1. That’s not what I’m talking about. How much time at how much weight? More fuel more weight. This thing, according to the public specs, has a very small margin of thrust past the average human body weight.

  7. We (USA) did this back in 1960. It was called Flying Strike Platform or just WASP. It’s on display at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio (USA).I have to admit this guy is FOR REAL. I’ve seen those portable jet engines for sale and they are maybe not as much as the OP said. I can see this thing as very plausible. It is quite noisy though. I think a maglev unit would be more plausible with a helium filled side tanks and a stadium sized room that was totally air-evacuated and refilled with compressed argon. The user would have a Scott Pack on for breathing and a tight HazMat suit to protect from argon contact with skin. The floor would have a ton of magnetite under it (uni-polarization would be pointed up). The board would have a portable DC electromagnet with rare earth magnet core powered by LiPo or better batteries (new battery tech – tinyurl(dot)com/peepqoq):

    1. I’d like to see a new version of the Williams Aerial Systems Platform built with today’s lighter materials. Williams built the WASP as a showcase for their cruise missile engine. They were also hoping to sell the WASP to the US Army.

      Just think how quickly a real flying squad could enter and secure an area of a city with these. They could fly over ant debris and barriers and IEDs in the streets, while also staying below roof level. Soldiers could also use them to quickly get into overwatch and sniping positions on buildings.

      The way we do this kind of operation now, and have for decades, is to drive in with Humvees and APCs. Those have to overcome any obstacles in the streets and are exposed to IEDs. To set soldiers onto roofs requires helicopters with several people on each. Get one vehicle blown up or one helicopter shot down and several people get injured or killed.

      WASPs would get in quicker and be much harder to shoot down due to their speed and small size, and if one does get downed it’s only one soldier. If equipped with a personal airbag vest (as has been demonstrated for motorcyclists) survival chances would be improved.

      Rockets, RPGs, machineguns and grenade launchers (smoke or explosive) could be mounted to the sides of a WASP. Imagine the surprise that hostiles on a building would have when a WASP pops up, fires a bunch of tear gas and frag grenades at them then drops out of sight and zips away. Can’t pull that off in narrow city streets with a helicopter.

      If the US military had had these in Mogadishu they’d have reached and secured the objective along with being able to locate and neutralize the guys on the roofs that were shooting the RPGs into the air. The “Mogadishu Lesson” is that you don’t send lightly armored or unarmored vehicles into a hostile urban environment alone and you don’t send in helicopters without heavily armed escort to secure the airspace. It also showed that if you shoot enough stuff into the air at random, some of it is bound to hit vehicles flying overhead. Armed and armored must go first to ‘smoke out’ and take out hostiles to clear the way – since we don’t have anything like the WASP that could just bypass much of the danger and attack from behind.

      1. Yeah, that would be a great idea.

        Fly at hostiles armed with RPGs on rooftops using expensive and unstable hovering tin cans.

        The problem with the WASP is that you control it by shifting your body, which means it’s almost impossible to fly and shoot at the same time. If you take your hands off the controls, you’re dead. They’re also ridiculously loud, so an insurgent will hear you coming before you’ve even managed to start it.

      2. @Galane – Yup Operation Gothic Serpent was poorly planned and executed (IMHO that is). I am not 100% positive that Bill Garrison would have used the WASP asset effectively either. I still think a light USN-ST squad could have done the extraction of Aidid better (no disrespect to Army Rangers!), Knowing the range of a Soviet RPG no helo pilot in their right mind would fly anywhere near a rooftop in Hadji-ville. I like the new hi-tech gadgets available for anti-RPG; they do show promise.

        I think your idea was thought of and basically tried during end of WW2 with that one man helicopter by Hiller (e.g. XH-44). He and Kaiser had over 140 of them at Wright-Pat prepping for deployment. I think it turned out that the typical American GI was not thought to be competent enough to use them. Otherwise they’d have to use more educated pilot types which means rich guy’s sons. So that never happened. Later Hiller/Kaiser went onto “other” stuff (i.e. Corona Program, etc.).

        Franky Zapata and his flying platform is real as hell. Check out FOX L.A. TV in California: http://www.foxla.com/news/share-this/122806219-story

        You can also type Zapata Racing in Google News. He’s (and his Green Goblin Board) all over the news media.

    2. What do you want to do to the argon, that would make it dangerous? Argon is part of the air (1%) and as a noble gas it is not toxic. But what is the reason for the argon-fill?

      1. @Martin – My argon idea would be 100% argon (compressed) filled room. That would not only be an asphyxiation hazard but IIRC argon can introduce some hazard through skin contact. So an android (e.g. new Atlas-II) would need no such protection. The argon would also allow the helium to perform better with lift then in a normal multiple-gas atmosphere. Obviously H2O (water) would be good for helium lift but presents other complications like viscosity, Argon is an inert gas and non-reactive. It is heavy enough for helium to react with super-lift in it. It’s only known hazard to skin is in the liquid state (when it is compressed). But I still don’t think you want to be hoverboard surfing in pure argon in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts.

  8. fake.
    no take off, no landing can be seen: the last part of landing (1:56) he bump on his legs to give impression to be just landed, but the table is already on the ground, he just move now the legs. Why then NOT show all the landing phase?

    Nice cut and paste of video clips to give impression or reality but is a fake.

    Did you believe in reusable rocket of Elon Musk without to see it caming down and landing in one videoclip without continue change of point of view as these good frauders done? i don’t. So i will believe ONLY if i see in ONE silgle videorecording WITHOUT cut the take off, the fly and the landing.

  9. The problem with all devices like this is that once you’re over, what?–40 feet of altitude?–and you lose an engine you’re going to the morgue. High enough to kill you, low enough to make a parachute unusable.

    I suppose you could restrict it to over-water use only, but I assume falling from not that much higher is still going to kill you, water or not.

    1. I’m not sure about that. IF you can shift your weight a little to balance over the remaining three engines, you might be able to gently descend. I stress the word “Might” LOL

  10. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and these days a simple video doesn’t cut it. You need credible witnesses, and possibly the local news. While a micro-turbine jet MIGHT be able to hold him aloft, the system is inherently unstable, requiring either active electronic control or a truly spider-man like sense of balance.

    I’ll believe it when they get credible people talking about seeing it FIRST HAND.

    1. First there was April fools. Then there was kickstarter. Difference is that the latter can be used year round. Now hackaday? That would be rather disappointing because I like hackaday for the most part. I’m surprised (and a bit appalled) that there was ZERO skepticism in the summary– “With that much skill under his belt, [Frank] would have no problem keeping balanced on four jet engines.” We’ll find out soon enough whether this was a truly awesome invention or a guffaw worthy hoax.

  11. I still thing it could be controlled electronically. The dialogue that the engines take time to spin up is very correct, but break the problem down a little further. I see an inverted pendulum, the stage that he is standing on looks to be little more than something along the lines of ski boot attachment points. At that interface, you tilt the entire motor assembly vs the pilot. I think you could control that.. the momentum of the pilot would allow for a smaller movement relative to the lift stage.. I just can’t think of the mechanism to articulate the stage.

  12. From an interview with Frank Zapata:

    How do you keep it stabilized? Is there something helping you other than you just shifting your weight?

    It’s a logic system inside the board that helps stabilize the machine. It’s extremely hard to stabilize, so yes it’s not only my balance. For example, we use like the same kind of electronics like you use on a drone to stabilize. The problem is to create the algorithms, the right algorithms, to combine the intelligence in the board and in your brain. So we spent about four months to make that work.

    What are those algorithms controlling to help stabilize, is it just thrust level?

    No. We adjust the top speed of the small turbines on the side, and also the inclination of the turboreactors itself. So it’s like we have six systems working together plus my brain and my legs.

    So it will actually change the angle of those turbines?

    Yes, it changes the angle of the turbines, it changes the angle of the thrust nozzle, we adjust also the power for each engine, and also we adjust the thrust of the side turbines, the small ones.

    So yes, aspects of everything discussed.

  13. This place was cooler 10 years ago. It’s doable. Issue is not thrust dynamics or balancing it’s flight time. With a 55km an hour speed and noise level. It’s unlikely to be used cuz oh shit I’m very late for work today. More likely it will be used in entertainment situations and in rescue situations where it would be easier to fly up or down than climb or bring in a helicopter.

  14. From a photograph I was able to see the jet-cat logo on one of the jet engines and a P4.. on another indicating that is definitely a jet-cat p-400 engine. Check out their web site. 88lbs of thrust times 4 would do it.

  15. Also, the side thrusters are JP Hobby, 70 EDF, electric ducted fans, up to 5lbs of thrust each, which function to maintain direction and stability. There is no indication of thrust vectoring on the jets and it looks like there is only a collective throttle. I agree with the author that there is probably little or no built in electronic stabilization, its all up to the highly trained pilot.

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