But Yves Rossy leapt from a plane and into the record books on Friday, crossing the channel on a homemade jet-propelled wing.
Rossy jumped from the plane about 8,200 feet over Calais, France, blasting across the narrow body of water and deploying his parachute over the South Foreland lighthouse, delighting onlookers who dotted Dover's famous white cliffs, cheering and waving as Rossy came into view.
Backed by a gentle breeze, Rossy crossed the Channel in 13 minutes, averaging 125 miles per hour. In a final flourish, he did a figure eight as he came over England, although the wind blew him away from his planned landing spot next to the lighthouse.
"It was perfect. Blue sky, sunny, no clouds, perfect conditions," the Swiss pilot said after touching down in an adjacent field. He said he wanted to show, "it is possible to fly, a little bit, like a bird."
Onlookers scooped up their children, picnics and dogs to race to the landing site as Rossy posed for photographs. His ground crew doused him with champagne, and the pilot swigged greedily from the bottle as he waved to the band of onlookers gathered to cheer him and take pictures with cell phone cameras.
A small airplane zipped across the sky with a banner that read: "Well done Jet Man."
Rossy said he had watched passenger ferries cutting a path between the Britain and France as he tore through the air.
"I was happy to be faster than them," he said. The 49 year old said the Channel crossing was the realization of a dream. "That's the most gratifying thing you can do," he said.
Rossy's trip - twice delayed due to bad weather - was meant to trace the route of French aviator Louis Bleriot, the first person to cross the narrow body of water in an airplane 99 years ago.
The South Foreland Lighthouse was the site of Guglielmo Marconi's experiments with radio telegraphy in 1898. Bleriot used the white building as a target during his pioneering flight, the building's manager, Simon Ovenden, said.
The Channel has attracted a range of adventurers and stuntmen over the years, most drawn to the 21-mile wide neck of water between Dover and Calais.
Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American doctor John Jeffries were the first to fly from Britain to mainland Europe in a hot air balloon in 1785.
Capt. Matthew Webb braved stinging jellyfish and strong currents to be the first to swim across the Channel in 1875. Other stunts followed: The first hovercraft crossing in 1959, the first human-powered air crossing in 1979.
Geoff Clark, a 54-year-old onlooker from Chatham, in southern England, called Rossy's flight "a remarkable achievement."
"We saw the climax of his attempt as he came down to earth with his parachute. It's been an exciting afternoon," Clark said.
Rossy's wing was made from carbon composite. It weighs about 121 pounds when loaded with fuel and carried four kerosene-burning jet turbines. The contraption has no steering devices. Rossy, a commercial airline pilot by training, wiggled his body back and forth to control the wing's movements.
He wore a heat-resistant suit similar to that worn by firefighters and racing drivers to protect him from the heat of the turbines. The cooling effect of the wind and high altitude also prevented him from getting too warm.
Mark Dale, the senior technical officer for the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, described Rossy's flight as a "fabulous stunt."
Rossy, who spent months preparing for the cross-Channel flight, has said he wants to fly across the Grand Canyon in Arizona next.
As for the 13 lonely minutes he spent aloft between England and France, he assured reporters he felt no fear.
"I was under tension. But fear? The day I fear, I don't go," Rossy said.