You don't see this every day: Three grown men — Yves Rossy, Vince Reffet and Fred Fugen — flying a set of rigid, jet-propelled wings in formation with eight of the Patrouille de France Alpha Jets aerobatic team (ambassadors of the French Air Force). Aside from being visually impressive, this stunt is also the perfect showcase of the precision and rigorous skills of the pilots, as well as the incredible flying abilities of the jetmen. We caught up with Reffet and Fugen to find out a bit more about what goes on behind a stunt like this.

Photography: Airborne Films

A THING OF BEAUTY What’s the biggest challenge of flying like this in formation with the planes?

Vince Reffet: It’s the coordination between all elements. It was the first time that we were flying with that many elements in the sky. There were eight Alpha Jets, three Jetmen, two helicopters that were dropping us, plus two more Alpha Jets who were there as a backup for video and one extra stunt plane, which means there were 16 elements in the air.

How far are you flying from the planes?

Fred Fugen: At the closest point, we were at about 15 feet away. But just for a few moments.


What kind of preparation goes into a stunt like this?

FF: When you start flying, you fly solo. Then you can start the formation with two people. Then when we trained to fly in formation, we trained with the helicopter from which we jumped. We jump from the heli, then it starts going forward at 115 mph on a straight trajectory and we fly beside it, working on precision and formation flights. The biggest difference with the Patrouille de France was the speed, because we were at much higher speeds. We were flying at 165 mph.

We didn’t have much of a margin for error — we were going quite fast, and they were at a very slow speed compared to what they normally do.


Is that pretty much the maximum speed at which you can go as a Jetman?

FF: When we’re at 115 mph, we’re pretty much at our top speed. From there, we can accelerate a little bit but that means there are no more margins. So for us, 115 mph was the top speed at which we could still have a little bit of a margin to be able to accelerate.


How did you set up the project?

FF: We got in contact with the director of the Patrouille de France. The good thing was he used to be a skydiver. He has a true passion for freefall and flying in general, so he knew quite a bit about the Jetman project already. He also wanted to fly with us, so he organized everything and got all the authorization.

We had two flying days with the planes. The first day we had two flights with two Alpha Jets and then the second day we did two flights with the whole Patrouille de France. When we did the first tests, mainly to test the speeds, he was flying one of the planes.

What’s next for Jetman? What are your dreams?

VR: We had a big project this summer, which we can’t talk too much about right now, but that should come out soon.

FF: Aside from that, we would love to go to space with our motorized wings.