Hoverboards Are Finally Here. Are ‘Flying Soldiers’ Next?

A French inventor says militaries have already contacted him about his groundbreaking hoverboard technology.

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Hoverboards have seemed like a technology that should be on the verge of invention since Marty McFly bested a crew of hoverboard toughs in Back to the Future II. But science never quite caught up with Hollywood — until now. French inventor Franky Zapata has finally created a device that would make McFly jealous.

In a test flight on Saturday, Zapata zipped through the ocean air high above the southern coast of France on a shoulder-width hoverboard.

In a phone conversation with Foreign Policy, Zapata said he owes his inspiration to Back to the Future II, a movie he has watched “maybe 100 times.”

Now, only a year later than McFly’s fictional flight, Zapata has made the hoverboard a reality. He claims it can travel 10,000 feet high at a speed of more than 90 mph. On Saturday, he demonstrated that it can accelerate at a speed of 40 mph for at least 1.4 miles. Zapata turns the board simply by shifting his weight, similar to riding a Segway, and throttles the four jet engines with a remote control.

But hoverboards could be used for more than joy riding above the sea or making dramatic getaways from cyberpunks. Zapata says militaries have already reached out to him about his patented technology, although he said he wasn’t at liberty to reveal which ones.

“I would love to collaborate with militaries,” Zapata told FP. “But I want to be on the right side. I will first collaborate with the French military, for search and rescue and security against terrorism.”

“Flying soldiers” could navigate city streets where helicopters are too bulky to fit, Zapata suggested, and scope out gunmen on rooftops or streets. Search-and-rescue teams could also use the devices to quickly bypass natural barriers like cliffs and rivers.

“It’s exactly like walking on air,” Zapata said.

The U.S. military is developing a “hoverbike,” designed for tactical reconnaissance, with the help of two defense engineering firms. Just as Zapata’s hoverboard takes its inspiration from Back to the Future, the Defense Department’s hoverbike appears to harken back to the Storm Trooper forest speeder, first seen on the moon of Endor in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Photo credit: Zapata Racing/FaceBook

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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