The Zapata Ezfly looks for all intents and purposes like a Segway of the sky. You stand on a small platform equipped with a series of jet thrusters, holding two handgrips that come up from the base, then rise up into the air and zoom around, steering with your bodyweight.
It builds on the platform of Franky Zapata's Flyboard Air, a green goblin-style flying platform with no Segway-style handgrips. The Flyboard Air, like the water-propelled Flyboard that started this whole venture for Zapata, straps you in at the boots, and requires an extraordinary amount of core strength and balance to operate – which its inventor most certainly has.
Zapata has frequently been seen zooming around over waterways in Europe and the United States, testing and updating his invention, sometimes with the blessing of the authorities, sometimes without.
The new Ezfly system is a dangerously disruptive idea, because it looks for all the world like it takes very little training to operate, so just about anyone could fly one. You don't strap your boots in, you just stand on the platform and hang onto the control sticks, pretty much like a three-dimensional Segway.
In the above video, Zapata shows a testing session held last October somewhere in Texas, where no less than 10 pilots jumped aboard the Ezfly and took turns blasting about over the surface of a lake. Everyone seemed to be able to get the hang of it pretty quickly, and there were no incidents. Notably, a couple of the guys in the test team were wearing military gear, which would make sense, as it's no secret the US defence forces are highly interested in personal flight devices.
In fact, the Ezfly looks like a vastly slimmed-down, much more powerful, jet propelled descendent of the Hiller Flying Platform, which was built in the 1950s and tested by the U.S. Army before eventually being abandoned.
The fact that Zapata was willing to put a range of people on board suggests that the Ezfly has a bunch of built-in stability gear, as well as potentially an altitude/distance from base limiter. You could even feasibly have a drone-style remote control to bring back a wayward pilot in distress. We'd love to know more, but Zapata hasn't yet responded to our enquiries.
One thing we can be fairly sure it doesn't have is an active safety system, because nothing of that nature really exists as yet.
Ballistic parachute systems are well and good, but they don't have time to slow your fall if you're flying at altitudes of less than about 100 ft (30 m). By the time they've opened up, you're the shape and texture of a pizza. That's a problem everyone's dealing with in this new VTOL space, from the flying car guys to the Jetpack people – once you're way up in the air, ballistic chutes are handy to have, but between the ground and 100 feet, a system failure could be absolutely catastrophic.
Devices like the Ezfly and Jetpack Aviation's JB-series jetpacks are capable of flying up to 10,000 ft in the air, but they're realistically going to spend 90 percent of their time in the death zone between 15-100 ft (4.5-30m), particularly if they become available to the public as recreational machines. So we wouldn't expect to see this come out as a commercial product, or move into military service, until that detail has been thoroughly dealt with.
And it will be dealt with. Our feeling is that it's only a matter of time before devices like the Ezfly become the new jet skis of the sky – unbelievably fun, massively noisy, amazing but slightly obnoxious extreme leisure machines. Bring it on.