On July 29 thousands watched as the inventor’s 16-year-old son donned a helmet, fastened himself to a prototype Martin jet pack, and revved the engine, which sounded like a motorcycle. Harrison Martin eased about three feet off the ground, the engine roaring with a whine so loud that some kids covered their ears. With two spotters preventing the jet pack from drifting in a mild wind, the pilot hovered for 45 seconds and then set the device down as the audience applauded.
The white jet pack with black trim stands on a brick-sized base with two legs sprawled behind it. The pilot steps backward into the straps of a shoulder harness, his shoulder blades resting against two wide upward-facing fans that provide the thrust. There’s an emergency parachute that’s effective above about 400 feet, and an impact-absorbing undercarriage that can soften a rough landing or short fall. One of the remaining tasks Martin has is refining the safety features for those heights in between. “A lot of it comes down to how do you fly, at what speed, at what angle,” he said. Reaction to the test flight was mixed. Attendees with aviation backgrounds raved, calling it an engineering marvel and saying the 45-second flight was fantastic proof that the idea works. Others who hoped to see the machine go higher and move in different directions seemed generally disappointed.
According to its creator, the Martin jet pack can fly an average-sized pilot about 30 miles in 30 minutes on a full 5-gallon tank of gas. This Youtube video demonstrates it in action. “Wow, that went better than expected,” Glenn Martin said afterward, his accent revealing his New Zealand roots. “People will look back on this as a moment in history.” Then again, maybe Glenn shouldn’t be so optimistic. Federal regulations limit the use of such devices, and it’s unclear whether people will shell out $100,000 for a jet pack whose capabilities have been demonstrated on paper but not in the air.
The Martin jet pack is designed to conform to the Federal Aviation Administration‘s definition of an ultralight vehicle, which weighs less than 254 pounds and carries only one passenger. Although the FAA could always change its mind, the ultralight designation means riders won’t need a pilot’s license. However, even if the new jet pack will be massively produced, don’t expect to see commuters rushing to work by air instead of land, since ultralights can’t be operated over congested areas, according to FAA regulations. Moreover, they are to be used “exclusively for sport or recreational purpose.”
But Martin is still optimistic; he predicts the jet packs will start out as toys for the wealthy, and as law enforcement officials become more familiar with them, the jet packs will be used more by governmental units such as the military, border-patrol officials, and search-and-rescue teams. Maybe part of his optimism is derived from his financial supporters. According to Martin, venture capitalists are backing him, but he didn’t give names.
Martin began taking orders on July 29 for jet packs to be delivered at next year’s AirVenture. However, he tries not to get too excited; after all, other entrepreneurs who chased the idea for about 50 years were unable to get off the ground. German scientists experimented with jet pack technology during World War II as a way to help soldiers avoid mines, and later on scientists at Bell Labs produced a version that ran on hydrogen peroxide and provided a few seconds of lift. During the years several companies have tried to massively market jet packs, but none succeeded greatly. As to Martin’s invention, only time will tell.
TFOT has also covered a personal winged jetpack invented by Yves Rossy, a former Swiss army pilot. Other related TFOT stories include GEN H-4, the world’s smallest co-axial helicopter, which weighs only 155 lbs, and the Evolution, an aircraft which can travel on land, in the water, and in the air.
For more information on the Martin jet pack, see the company’s website.