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Sunday, September 28, 2008

CORRECTED - "Fusion Man" makes historic Channel flight

Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy flew from France to Britain Friday propelled by a jetpack strapped to his back -- the first person to cross the English Channnel in such a way.

Rossy, a pilot who normally flies an Airbus airliner, crossed the 22 miles (35 km) between Calais and Dover at speeds of up to 120 mph (200 kph) in 13 minutes, his spokesman said.

When the white cliffs of Dover came into view, he opened a blue and yellow parachute and drifted down in light winds to land in a British field where he was mobbed by well-wishers.

"Everything was perfect," he said afterwards. "I showed that it is possible to fly a little bit like a bird."

Rossy traced the route of French aviator Louis Bleriot, who became the first person to fly across the Channel in an aircraft in 1909.

The Swiss pilot was propelled by four kerosene-burning jet turbines attached to a wing on his back. He ignited the jets inside a plane before jumping out more than 8,000 feet (2,400 metres) above ground.

After a period of free fall he opened the wing and soared across the water. With no steering controls, the only way to change direction was like a bird, moving his head and back.

The 49-year-old Rossy, who calls himself "Fusion Man," told the BBC the most tense moment was when he jumped from the aircraft "because I did have many problems during exits before."

But this time he made a perfect exit and quickly set the correct course by aiming for the cliffs of Dover.

Rossy usually flies a Swiss International A320 Airbus between Zurich and Heathrow and he develop the jet-propelled device himself.

The wing, which spans eight feet, is made of lightweight carbon composite and weighs about 55 kg (120 lb) including fuel.

He postponed the flight twice this week due to poor weather and wore a flameproof suit to help him withstand the jet exhaust around his legs.

His future plans included flying over the Grand Canyon, taking off from a standing position on the ground and performing acrobatics.

The sail of the century

We had a meeting set up here in the Big Apple, but what is a guy gonna do when his team just Cubs chairman Crane Kenney didn't make this road trip with his first-place team.

''I thought it might be a more crucial series,'' he said over the phone, back in Chicago. ''I'm sorry.''

keeps rolling like a mountain boulder, with the best record in the National League, trees snapping in its path, and nothing much to do but gawk at the view ahead?

What we were set to talk about was this 2008 Cubs team, so oddly successful in maybe the oddest time in the club's history. Not only is this the endlessly discussed and ridiculed century mark for Cubs failure, it is also a time when the club is for sale, has been for sale for more than a year, and absolutely nothing is certain about anything from ballpark to batboys.

You would think the doubt and instability would be more than even manager Lou Piniella and continual goat exorcism could overcome.

''It's funny,'' Kenney said. ''But we don't have a president, we don't know who the owner's going to be, we don't know the future, but we have this little group and we're having a great time. I mean, our ratings are up 40 percent, we drew 3.3 million fans this season. All we can control is our work.''

'It's just baseball'

Kenney talked for a spell about the irony of getting not a penny from the state, how Cubs fans actually make money for the White Sox, with the hotel taxes that the South Side team cleverly collects.

''If we win the World Series, I've read it would bring $160 million to Chicago,'' Kenney said. ''What if there's a new owner and he throws us all out? Nothing we can do about that. In an odd way, Sam [Zell, the owner of parent Tribune Co.] has been a great owner. He's hands-off, and he tells me to make my own decisions. I asked him about a big player deal a while back, and he said, 'Don't ever ask me stuff like that again! That's your job.'

''So what we have is this organization -- all of us contributing, Lou, Jim Hendry, Randy Bush, our scouts, coaches, players, all the workers -- and it's all of us who are doing this. We have an organization. It's not Sammy Sosa and a bunch of guys. Not a team with a Steve Stone controversy. It's just baseball.''

And the potential buyers -- five of them now -- keep coming to visit with Kenney and Zell's people, and some day, somehow, this team will enter a new era.

As you read this, Mark Cuban will be in Chicago, doing his thing one more time for the purchase. People may have thought the brash and eager Cuban was out of the running, but that's not so.

Kenney isn't discussing particulars -- in a sense he is participating in his own potential demise -- but Cuban is the guy who understands what the Cubs are truly worth.

Potential seems unlimited

Greta Van Susteren asked him on Fox News on Wednesday if the current national financial mess didn't make this a bad time to buy the Cubs.

''It's always a good time to buy a good baseball team,'' Cuban said with his trademark sly grin.

And the reason this is true has something to do with Kenney in his what-the-hell-can-we-do-but-go-for-it reign.

''The Cubs when they win have incredible revenue potential,'' Kenney said. ''Board members ask me if we have plucked the low-hanging fruit yet. I tell them, 'We're still just getting what's on the ground.'''

Former president Andy MacPhail never could wrap his small-market arms around the fact the Cubs exist in a huge city with huge economic potential. Brief president John McDonough was aware of this, but he resigned and went to the Blackhawks last year.

Kenney, who was formerly the general counsel, assumed the Cubs chairman's job in 2003, and now he presides over a club that just seems to have discovered what it should be.

''If we look at it as not just programming for WGN, we can improve the park, pay more for players, give the fans a better team,'' he said. ''The better our team is, the more money we make, the more we can improve the team.''

What the chairman is saying is that the Cubs have been underdeveloped for, oh, about a century.

What he is saying is Chicagoans never, ever should accept horse-bleep teams from the Cubs again.

Kenney points out the winky-dink cities in the NL Central. For God's sake, he implies, the Cubs should never lose to places like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis.

''Remember the 'weeping women' who tried to stop us from tearing down and enlarging the bleachers? The angry blogs? We rebuilt the bleachers, added 1,800 seats, put in the Bleachers Eye Lounge, the 'knothole' to the street, and the place looks even better. We said, 'Trust us.'

''The 'Under Armour' signs on the doors? We haven't had any real complaints. They're tasteful, subdued, sports-related. We wouldn't have 'Pepto-Bismol' out there. Listen, there's a modern equation in this game. Under Armour is paying us in the multiple seven figures for the signs. People see that. They look over at Alfonso Soriano. That's the equation.''

Looking for a little trust

Kenney is fired up, and one reason is that he could make a lot of money doing something else if the Cubs are sold and he is canned. So he isn't desperate. Only emotional.

''If people will trust us. ...'' he said, knowing that the public would rather trust an alligator than a financial geek these days. Yet look at where the Cubs are headed afield.

''If you were trying to buy a gold mine, I don't know if you could get financing today,'' Kenney said of current credit difficulties for buyers. ''So what we say is, 'Who cares?'''

The Cubs are better than a gold mine, anyway.