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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 17:35 EDT

Man Crosses English Channel in Homemade Wing

September 27, 2008

By Randy McMullen

He had nothing above him but four tanks of kerosene and nothing below him but the cold waters of the English Channel.

And it wasn’t even another stupid David Blaine stunt.

It was Yves Rossy, who leapt from a plane and into the record books Friday, crossing the channel on a homemade jet-propelled wing.

Rossy jumped from the plane about 8,200 feet over Calais, France, blasting across the narrow body of water and deploying his parachute over the South Foreland lighthouse, delighting onlookers who dotted Dover’s famous white cliffs, cheering and waving as Rossy came into view.

Backed by a gentle breeze, Rossy crossed the channel in 13 minutes, averaging 125 miles per hour. In a final flourish, he did a figure eight as he came over England, although the wind blew him away from his planned landing spot next to the lighthouse.

“It was perfect. Blue sky, sunny, no clouds, perfect conditions,” the Swiss pilot said after touching down in an adjacent field. He said he wanted to show “it is possible to fly, a little bit, like a bird.”

Afterward, onlookers scooped up their children, picnics and dogs to race to the landing site as Rossy posed for photographs. His ground crew doused him with Champagne, and the pilot swigged greedily from the bottle as he waved to the band of onlookers gathered to cheer him and take pictures with cell phone cameras.

Rossy’s trip — twice delayed by bad weather — was meant to trace the route of French aviator Louis Bleriot, the first person to cross the narrow body of water in an airplane 99 years ago.

Rossy’s wing was made from carbon composite. It weighs about 121 pounds when loaded with fuel and carried four kerosene-burning jet turbines. The contraption has no steering devices. Rossy, a commercial airline pilot by training, wiggled his body back and forth to control the wing’s movements.