By Jeff Hemmel
Make Your PWC Fly with the Flyboard
Here’s a closer look at this jet-propelled device, and how to mount it to a PWC.
One of our friends from across the pond, Alex Smith, wrote an article we found rather intriguing: The FlyBoard: How to Add Fun to Your PWC. So we decided to find a writer here in the US of A who knew what this thing was all about, and steal a little British thunder. Luckily, resident PWC expert Jeff Hemmel knew what was going on.
There’s a lot of interest of late in flying by jet. Not the kind that whoosh you through the air in an enclosed metal tube, but rather the kind that are used to propel a much smaller vehicle—a personal watercraft. First on the scene was the JetLev, a futuristic backpack that was undoubtedly cool but out of the price range of most buyers. The next product to turn heads, however, lowered that price substantially. And in the process, it opened the skies to a far wider audience.
The primary jets of the FlyBoard attach below your feet, with two additional, lower-powered jets controlled by your hands. In this manner, it makes flyers look more like Iron Man than that guy from Lost In Space. But more importantly, it relies not on a one-trick pony unmanned drone, but instead a conventional personal watercraft. In that way it reduces costs — from the JetLev’s near $100,000 price tag to a far more reasonable $6,495—while utilizing a craft many users may already own.
So how’s it all work? The answer is surprisingly simple. In the broadest terms, the FlyBoard requires a personal watercraft of at least 100 horsepower to operate. That’s a pretty easy number to find in today’s market. In fact, even the most modest models currently produced surpass the 100 hp mark. Once you’ve got your craft lined up, the actual connection from board to craft can happen in less than 30 minutes, and with simple hand tools. The first step is to remove your craft’s pump and steering nozzle. Typically the whole assembly comes off easily with just four bolts. An aluminum adapter plate, specific to your model of craft, is then bolted in place, followed by the FlyBoard’s 180-degree elbow. Like the adapter plate itself, the elbow simply bolts in with four bolts. It’s a switch some dealers will claim can be accomplished in the water, but though straightforward, I’d rather do it on the trailer where I could see what I was doing, as well as find that wrench I would inevitably drop.
The purpose of the 180-degree elbow should be obvious. It takes all the thrust normally used to propel the watercraft, and diverts it through a 40’ hose to the FlyBoard. There, a Y-shaped pipe splits the flow and allocates about 90 percent to the two cast-iron jets located under the rider’s feet, and the remaining 10 percent to the two aluminum thrusters strapped to the rider’s arms. Worried about twisting up that hose as you swoop and soar? You needn’t be. It attaches to the Fly Board via a 360-degree swivel connection, featuring self-lubricating, self-cleaning plastic bearings.
The “flyer” controls their direction somewhat similar to the way one edges on a wakeboard. The arm-mounted thrusters add a little more control. The actual amount of thrust applied, however, is literally out of the rider’s hands, at least in standard trim. That responsibility falls to a partner, who rides aboard the PWC that is now being towed behind. Instruction is required to learn just how much throttle to apply, and when, to enable your flying partner to soar under control as opposed to being blasted through the atmosphere. That safety and operator course is taught by the manufacturer or dealer.
Those that want more control over their destiny (I think that’s most of us) and have a modern, electronically-controlled engine can opt for an Electronic Management Kit (about $1,850). The kit transfers control over the throttle to the FlyBoard rider, who can then moderate thrust via a trigger lever on one handgrip.
FlyBoard reps say that mastering the basics with the board can be accomplished in about 10 minutes with a certified instructor. To really get a handle on things takes about three hours—certainly a lot less time than it takes to learn how to fly one of those big metal tubes.
For more information, visit Zepata Racing.
- Jeff Hemmel writes for boats.com, Boating, PersonalWatercraft.com, and Powersports Business. The former Senior Editor at Watercraft World, Jeff is a multi-time award winner as well as a 2008 inductee into the IJSBA Hall of Fame. His first book, "The Anti-Pirate Potato Cannon...and 101 Other Things For Young Mariners To Try, Do, & Build On the Water," received a bronze medal in the 2010 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards. For more info, visit Jeff Hemmel's website.