Man has envied the birds of the air since they first lifted their eyes to the sky on a weary trek across the veldt. Ancient Icarus escaped from Minoan Crete with a set of wax bound wings his father made him, but struck with the sheer joy of flying ignored his father’s warnings and came too close to the sun, falling into the sea that now bears his name. One pre-revolutionary French noblewoman sighed at her first sight of an air balloon, saying that she knew technology, having won man freedom for earth’s surly bonds, would someday conquer death itself, lamenting only that she would never live to see the day herself. After balloons came Clément Ader in 1890 to prove that powered, heavier than air flight was possible. Orville and Wilbur took a little longer to demonstrate that one could take off unassisted, control the machine for a perceptible time and land it without breaking anything important.
From that time until now the technology progressed rapidly in the fixed wing lane. Rotary wing aircraft have gone from a bee in the bonnet of Michelangelo Leonardo (thanks, SSG Jeff) to a dreadful nuisance on carrier decks throughout the fleet an incredibly important contributor to battlespace dominance. But since at least the 40′s, each generation of young men had those among them that grew up fantasizing over someday owning a jet pack.
Jetpacks offered the teenage dreamer advantages that fixed and rotary wing aircraft could not: There would be no inconvenient airport commutes with a jetpack, and no queues at the baggage pick-up or parking lot. You could fly it to your girlfriend’s apartment with a twenty and a toothbrush in hand, land on the roof and be living the life of Riley. Neither would there be any of the inherent contradictions that go with helicopter flight, what with all of those specialized hovering skills and moving parts, built to the lowest bid, whirling at fantastical speeds and always in fatal opposition to one another.
But it was never practical, jetpack flight. Until now, or nearly:
Today’s unveiling of the Martin Jetpack is one of the marquee events at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture, a weeklong air show that is drawing hundreds of thousands of people – and about 10,000 airplanes – to Oshkosh, Wis…
Theoretically, the jetpack can fly for 30 minutes, and rise to a height of 8,000 feet. But Glenn Martin said the flight envelope will be carefully tested over the coming months. Martin is opening the order book as of today, and said 10 to 20 vehicles could be sold by the time next year’s Oshkosh air show rolls around.
There’s video, which tells this old head that work remains to be done on accelerometers and gyroscopic stabilization before any of this can be made remotely safe. Unless you’ve got your own twosome of wing walkers chasing you all over hell and gone. And to be perfectly honest, it’s less a jetpack that Mr. Martin has developed than a lift fan – no one is going to set any speed records.
Still. It’s kind of groovy.