Wouldn't it be great if we could all get jetpacks and go flying this weekend? Well, we can. Often thought of as a far-off technology that's yet to be realized, jetpack technology has actually been around for a while now. Sure, some models are just dangerous toys made by kooks, but the truth is jetpacks are for real, and flying today.
If you have $125,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you could buy a jetpack right now from a company called Tecaeromex. There's a dual-fanned contraption that's already gotten off the ground and might soon be available. A water-powered belt is currently zipping around at 45mph. And there's even a turbojet belt in development that might soon let you fly for 9 minutes and travel 11 miles. Continue reading for a tour of all four jetpack types soaring today.
1. Hydrogen peroxide jetpack
This is the James Bond jetpack, powered by hydrogen peroxide and just barely light enough to wear on your back. Based on the Bell Aerosystems jetpack built for the U.S. military and first flown untethered in 1961, its propulsion is more like a water balloon than a jet engine. When the fuel comes in contact with a catalyst such as silver or platinum, the liquid quickly decomposes into water vapor and oxygen, expanding through two nozzles, and providing enough thrust to lift a 180-pound person.
State of the art: There are two major players. Tecaeromex offers the only jetpack for sale right now, and once you've laid down the $125,000 for the unit itself, you'll have to go through 50 test flights just learn how to control it. Then there's Jetpack international (Jet P.I.), the company that handles most of the exhibition flying these days. It flies the Go-Fast Jetpack H2O2-Z you see in the video above. It holds eight gallons of fuel that can propel it for 43 seconds at a maximum speed of 77 mph.
Limitations: Even though both jetpacks use the latest aerospace materials such as carbon fiber, Kevlar, titanium and aluminum, the 78-pound H2O2-Z, the longest-flying model yet, is still limited to a maximum airborne time of 41 seconds. The jetpacks' peroxide propellant is expensive and hard to come by, they're so dangerous that only skydivers need apply, and they're difficult to learn how to fly since there's no simulator.
Applications: According to Tecaeromex's Juan Lozano, don't expect to depend on it to fly you to work every morning. For flying short exhibition flights, that huge chunk of change might be a good investment, says Lozano: "The flight time is very limited, but it is a great business for shows, special events and sport events because you charge about $25,000 for each flight. So the business is great."
Our take:To see a guy flying around with a jetpack is a spectacular sight, and that's the only use for the devices these days. It takes a lot of skill to fly one, too. If control of a jetpack could be computer-assisted, it would be a lot safer. This might be possible someday, according to Tecaeromex's Juan Lozano: "Now we see micro toys that are stabilized in flight. Maybe someday you will be able to fly your own jetpack with software similar to that used in the two-wheel standup vehicles like the Segway, that is computer stabilized." However, it's going to be difficult to extend the flying time of this design, because the weight of the fuel will become too cumbersome for most people to carry on their backs. This technology it looks like it'll be stuck in the realm of the carnival trick.
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