It has been the stuff of science-fiction legend for generations, but the era of futuristic personal space-age travel may have finally dawned.
After completing a grueling seven-minute outside test flight, the longest ever by a jetpack, the world’s first commercial rocketman suit could be just months from hitting the shelves.
Reaching death-defying altitudes of more than 100ft, the Martin Jetpack’s flight last week brought 40 years of development near to a conclusion and the dreams of millions achingly close to reality.
Moment of truth: The Martin Jetpack has completed a grueling seven-minute outside test flight, the longest ever by a jetpack. It has a range of 31 miles, according to its manufacturer. Although limited to speeds well below its 60mph capacity, the remotely controlled test, using a weighted dummy pilot called Jetson, smashed records for altitude and air-time.
At it’s unveiling at a U.S. airshow in 2008; the aircraft did not go higher than 6ft – an arm’s reach from a watchful ground crew – or fly for longer than 45 seconds.
Given the success of the trial, the first ‘jet-ski in the sky’ could now be dispatched for solo flights by the end of the year at a price of around £50,000 ($75,000) per machine.
Designed to be the ‘simplest aircraft in the world’ the Martin Jetpack will be a breeze to fly, according to inventor Glenn Martin.
He said: ‘You just strap it on and rev the nuts out of it and it lifts you up off the ground.
‘It’s just basic physics. As Newton said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So when you shoot lots of air down very fast you go up and you’re flying.’
Mr. Martin says 2,500 people have already signed up for to buy the jetpack, with inquiries coming from Middle Eastern royalty and U.S. millionaires.
The two-litre 200-horsepower gasoline engine powers two ducted fans that can soar across the skies at 60mph at heights of up to 160ft.
The jetpack, which produces up to 6000rpm (revolutions per minute), carries enough fuel to fly for 30 minutes.
Its makers are targeting tourism joy flights, pilot training and private recreational sales.
‘Some just want to dodge the rush-hour traffic and do it in style’, Mr. Martin said.
Future of travel? The jetpack, which produces up to 6000rpm, carries enough fuel to fly for 30 minutes.
But the invention’s immediate deployment is likely to be as a ground-breaking defense tool with the U.S. military, which first tested jetpacks in the 1960s, and U.S. border control the first organizations to take delivery of the device.
Mr. Martin, a 50-year-old father of two, sees the military version of the jetpack being used in hard-to-access areas, war zones to patrol borders and, if unmanned, to make difficult deliveries by remote control.
It could also be used in counter terrorism operations, as an airborne missile platform and mobile surveillance unit.
The New Zealander created the Martin Aircraft Company in 1998 specifically to develop a jetpack that could fly 100 times longer than the 28 seconds of its predecessor, the Bell Rocket Belt.
Given the success of the trial, the Martin Jetpack could now be dispatched for solo flights by the end of the year at a price of around £50,000 per machine.
The Bell Rocket Belt was made famous by presentations at Disneyland, the 1984 Summer Olympics and an appearance in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball.
The belt could carry a man over 30ft-high obstacles and reached speeds of up to 10mph but its limited flying time of just 20-30 seconds and huge fuel consumption at $2,000 per flight made the device impractical and uneconomical.
By contrast, the Canterbury company’s latest jetpack costs just 15 cents for around 20 seconds air-time.
Given the shaky safety record of similar ultra-light aircraft, the inventor said a key component of the Martin jetpack will be its ‘ease of flight’.
Forward and backward movement and sideways tilt of the propellers, for left and right turns are controlled by a joystick in the left hand, yaw (angle) and the throttle by the right hand.
Sean Connery uses a Belt Rocket Belt jetpack in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball. It could carry a man over 30ft-high obstacles and reached speeds of up to 10mph but had a limited flying time of just 20-30 seconds and huge fuel consumption.
The jetpack will be fitted with electronic stabilizers and computer aided flight controls while a roll cage and ballistic parachute system will also come as standard.
The engine, fuel tank and pilot are positioned between and below the lift-fans to lower the centre of gravity and prevent the machine turning upside down.
While the first outside test is a huge advancement in bringing the device to the shelves, it is still unclear how aviation authorities will treat the jetpack.
Weighing just 250lbs, users in many European countries, including Britain, should not need to be licensed. However, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is still considering an official response.
Either way, Martin Aircraft Company said any attempt to fly the jetpack without professional instruction would be ‘extremely foolhardy’.
The company will require all owners to undertake an approved training programme before flying the aircraft with personal users taking delivery in around 18 months.
Video of the Martin Jetpack’s test flight:
Inventor Glenn Martin explains how his jetpack works: