So far the future has been very disappointing. Where are the hover boards? Where are the moon bases? Where are the sexy, full-service cyborgs? So far the boffins have let us down big time. But one thing that has blasted its way into the market place recently is jetpacks. Yes, jetpacks! The first half-decent one is now commercially available and a snip at £50K. But is that the best deal out there? Could you do better with a couple of washing-up liquid bottles and some fizzy pop? We have investigated.
Nerds have been fictionalising about jetpacks and rocket belts since the beginning of the last century. But it was our pals the Nazis who first developed the idea with their thoroughly evil but awesomely sounding ‘Sky Stormer’ which used small jet engines to fly the filthy Bosch about. It was an idea adopted and completely bastardised by The Rocketeer comic, film and light opera.
In the crazy Cold War, ‘duck and cover’ times of the 1950s, all manner of crazy jetpack devices were devised, with aeropacks, rocket belts and jump belts ensuring that an entire generation of Americans had singed waists. But the same problem always emerged: fuel was heavy and we flimsy humans could only carry so much. So flying time was short. Many tried to get us flying. Many failed. Ideas such as water-drive systems and ion-propelled packs failed to catch on. Then the destructive tendencies of rock and roll music distracted everybody.
Probably the best of this early bunch was the Bell Rocket Belt, designed for use by the US military but most notable for getting James Bond hot and bothered in Thunderball. But, despite the commercial interest after the cinematic world witnessed a Scotsman flying, it could only keep it up for 30 seconds. Boo. Soon Roger Moore would take over the role and his eyebrows distracted everybody.
NASA have been using jetpacks to squirt their astronauts around space stations with their SAFER system, but things are a bit easier when you don’t have pesky gravity in the way. The problem is ‘weight-to-thrust’ ratio, or the amount of fuel needed to keep a big heavy person in the air for a period of time. It takes a lot to get them up and keep them up. Now some Kiwis think they’ve cracked it. After nine prototypes and a lot of disturbed Kookaburras, the Martin Company have released the first commercially available jetpack.
It can travel at 60MPH producing 200 horsepower and keep you airborne for 30 minutes. It’s light enough that you don’t need any sort of aviation licence and has a built in, low altitude parachute for when the inevitable happens. There are roll bars to stop any painful crushings should you have a close encounter with a migrating goose and the company are developing a heftier, more efficient model.
Previous commercially available jetpacks, like the TAM Rocket Belt were mighty expensive and only ran for seconds. But hey, thanks to the development of the Martin, you can now pick these up for a lot cheaper from disgruntled jetpack early adopters. Have a look on eBay. Seriously.
Jet P.I. have a variety of packs that will keep you up there for nine minutes and beyond. While Thunderbolt aims to have you airborne for a more modest 75 seconds.
If you don’t fancy forgoing that house and blowing the mortgage on a jetpack instead, there are some cheaper alternatives. Indy Mogul claims they have a pack for $30. All you need is an old backpack, a fire extinguisher and some special effects equipment. Wait a minute? Special effects. Well yes, you don’t actually take off, but what do you expect for $30. And it looks cool.
Or if you’re even more adventurous than that, Future Horizons sells jetpack kits for a mere $38! Well, you get the plans for that and the assurance that testing is underway. What have you got to lose!
Or you can follow the instructions of good old British mad inventor Stuart Ross, who designed and built his own Hydrogen Peroxide system. You can see how exactly he did it on his site.
Even though the US Federal Aviation Authority is developing technology to deal with Jetpacks and other personal flight systems clogging up airspace, we’ll probably have to wait a while until we’re jetting to Aldi for some plums. Until we unearth some magical ‘space fuel’ that weighs nothing and lasts ages, the US military, the global leader in insane inventions, are focusing on tiny one-man helicopters instead (told you). So it looks like you’ll have to wait a while before you’re acting like James Bond or that man at the Olympics that crashed. Oh the future – will you ever live up to expectations?
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