Thousands of people looked at a 16-year-old boy who invented a 250-pound piano-sized contraption jet pack, rather than the usual strap on.
Glenn Martin, donning a helmet, fastened himself to a prototype Martin jet pack and rewed the engine, which sounded like a motorcycle. Martin eased about three feet off the ground, with the engine roaring loudly. The jet pack was prevented by two spotters from drifting in a mild wind, hovering for 45 seconds and then set the device down as the audience applauded.
The Martin jet pack could fly an average-sized pilot about 30 miles in 30 minutes on a full 5-gallon tank of gas. The jet pack was unveiled on Tuesday at AirVenture Oshkosh 2008, the annual convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association in east-central Wisconsin.
Federal regulations limit the use of such devices and its unclear whether people will spend $100,000 for a jet pack whose capabilities have been demonstrated on paper but not in the air. The Martin jet pack, weighing only 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. According to FAA regulations, don’t expect to see commuters rushing to work by air instead of land, ultralights can’t be operated over congested areas but are used exclusively for sport or recreational purpose.
Martin’s white jet pack with black trim stands on a brick-sized base with two legs sprawled behind. The pilot steps backward into the straps of a shoulder harness, his shoulder blades resting against two upward-facing fans, providing the thrust. There’s an emergency parachute that’s effective above about 400 feet and an impact-absorbing undercarriage that can lessen the impact of a rough landing or short fall.
During World War II, German scientists experimented with jet pack technology to help soldiers avoid mines. Then, Bell Labs’ scientists produced a version that ran on hydrogen peroxide and provided a few seconds of lift. Later, a California company spent six years and millions of the military’s dollars on the 8-foot-tall SoloTrek Exo-Skeletor Flying Vehicle, but the test flight in 2002 was disappointing, when it hovered a few feet off the ground for 19 seconds. Two other companies are trying to sell jet packs now. No other major companies have been reported producing jet packs.