Air traffic controllers in America were on the alert last night – none of those infamous mid-shift naps – for a blip on their screens that may at first sight appear to be a human with wings. Wait, it will be a human with wings as well as a jet pack firmly attached to his back, and a cargo-hold of courage.
The Federal Aviation Authority confirmed that it had given formal approval to Yves Rossy, an aviation daredevil from Switzerland who has used a homemade jetpack to fly over the Alps and the English Channel, to realise one of his longest-held dreams: to soar and swoop over the deep void of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The 51-year-old Rossy, who calls himself JetMan, was reportedly making final preparations yesterday to launch himself from a helicopter close to Eagle Point, a well-known viewing ledge for tourists on the western rim, for a flight that may last six minutes or more, at least until his fuel runs out and he is obliged to open a parachute.
Blindsided by the recent scandal of air traffic controllers snoozing on the job or watching videos, the FAA might not normally be expected to look kindly on such adventures. Indeed, officials said they learned of Rossy's plans only from media accounts. But this is the land of Superman and a flying hero clearly caught someone's imagination.
His Grand Canyon quest has also got the attention of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is more usually accustomed to monitoring people in glider and hang-glider contraptions.
"This one is a bit unusual," said Dick Knapinski, spokesman for the group. "It's such a unique design and a unique pursuit that it doesn't fall in the usual categories."
A former fighter pilot who has also been called Fusionman, Rossy successfully flew across the English Channel in September 2008. He travelled at speeds of 125mph and reached England 13 minutes after leaving Calais.