Article published in Times Online



photo Gareht Fuller/PA


Stephane Rousson fails in attempt
at first channel crossing by pedal-powered airship

September 28, 2008


Ships in the English Channel could be forgiven for thinking they have stumbled into the Wacky Races as a French adventurer failed today to become the first person to cross the Channel in a pedal-powered airship - only two days after a Swiss pilot became the first human to fly between England and France using a jet-powered wing. Stephane Rousson, 39, was forced to abandon his attempt to pedal from Kent to Calais only 11 miles from France, after unfavourable winds developed during the day. Speaking from France, Mr Rousson said: “We were about three-quarters of the way across but the wind was flowing in the wrong direction for me to make it across. “I’m not disappointed. I feel happy because it had nothing to do with any technical failure, it was purely the wind that got in the way of this achievement. “Unfortunately there was nothing to suggest from the weather forecasts that there was going to be this change in the direction of the wind.” Mr Rousson took off from Hythe in Kent in his 16-metre blimp Mlle Louise just before 8 o'clock this morning, and had hoped to complete the journey to Wissant in under eight hours. “To have set off is a victory in itself," his spokeswoman said earlier. Mr Rousson has spent months waiting for the perfect weather conditions for the flight, and at first all seemed to be going well. But shifting winds left him hovering stationary halfway across the channel at one o'clock this afternoon, and he conceded defeat two hours later. His airship was deflated and he returned to shore aboard one of the two support boats that had been following him across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. He said: “The success is not with me but I have had so much fun. My legs are a little bit burnt and I’m sure tomorrow I will be feeling a little sad but I’ll have a few beers.” “I have had such fun. I have just spent almost eight hours pedalling and I have done my best to make this achievement happen.” Mr Rousson said he hoped to be able to try again, but that this would not be possible without the support of a new sponsor. “All my money has gone into achieving this over the past five years. I’m quite a bit in debt. If I found a lot of money I would definitely try again but I don’t have a large budget at the moment." Today was Mr Rousson's second attempt at the challenge after he was forced to delay in June, also because the wind was too strong. Dangling beneath the helium-filled blimp and poised between two pedal-powered propellers, Mr Rousson was at the mercy of the mildest gust. For more than a month he has been at his Kent base, waiting anxiously for a day where no wind was forecast - a considerable rarity in the English channel. "What feels breathlessly still to most people feels like a storm when you're trying to fly a pedal-powered airship," he said during preparations last month. The craft - named after Mr Rousson's ex-girlfriend - weighs only 80kg and with a top speed of only 20km/h needs perfect stillness to make the 27-mile crossing. On Friday Yves Rossy, a 49-year old Swiss airline pilot, became the first person to fly solo across the Channel using a single jet-propelled wing. He too was delayed by poor weather, but when conditions were right took less than ten minutes to fly between Dover and Calais. Mr Rousson, needing roughly 50 times as long, fell victim to Channel's notoriousy changeable weather. Before setting out, Mr Rousson said that human-powered flight had been a dream ever since he watched Steven Spielberg's ET as a child. "When I was young, I saw the movie and watched the little guy pedalling on a bike flying in front of the moon with ET. I always wanted to fly,” he said. After qualifying as an airline pilot in 2001, he was unable to find a job in the post September 11 downturn but has been working on the cross-channel airship for five years. "Crossing the channel has been my dream for the last five years," he said recently. "If I make it, it will be a historic jouney." The aborted crossing will have been physically exhausting for Mr Rousson. His energetic pedalling powers the craft's two propellers, which he adjusts with his hands to steer up and down, as well as left and right. They needed to be perfectly balanced at all times to prevent him being pitched into the sea. Incredibly, Mr Rousson would not have been the first aviator to fly across the channel using only pedal power. In 1979 Bryan Allen, an American cyclist, made the flight from Folkestone to Cap Gris-Nez in under three hours in the Gossamer Albatross, an ultra-light glider with an 100-ft wingspan. The craft was designed by the inspirational engineer Paul MacCready, known as "the father of human powered flight", and scooped a £100,000 prize from a wealthy industrialist. No one has yet managed the flight in a pedal powered airship.



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