The Real Story on Jet Packs


"all human beings would like to be able to fly--not by plane or helicopter or oversize cannon, but strapped to a thunderous gadget with intuitive controls"

So, what's the problem with getting a functioning jet back off the ground? According a recent piece in Popular Mechanics, "everything."

First, let's get one thing straight. Most of these devices are not jet packs. They are rocket belts. The distinction is important. Rocket belts are gimmicks that emit steam (or whatever) at a high velocity for a few seconds so you fly around a little. This is essentially the humanoid equivalent of blowing up a balloon and letting it go before tie it off. Jet packs use ... well, jets. Which are specific types of machines.

So, why can't I have a jet pack?????

It isn't simply a matter of technology in its infancy--the eight-track paving the way for the cassette, or the Roomba for the domestic android. Rocket belts have been disappointing for decades, and although word of the sub-$100,000 ThunderPack has made the rounds online this past week, the hurdles have yet to be cleared. At best, today's rocket belts are an excellent party trick, worthy of halftime stunts and air show demonstrations. At worst, they're a marketing campaign for a product that no one's actually supposed to buy. So here's why it's time to stop talking about rocket belts, for good, and get back to the business of making jet engines wearable.

OK, fine, but I want a jet pack. How about a ThunderPack TP R2-G2? Can I have one of those?

On a full tank, the new ThunderPack TP R2-G2 weighs between 170 to 182 pounds, depending on the type of fuel used (the slightly heavier model adds kerosene to the standard hydrogen peroxide mixture). The models offered by TAM and JetPack International, ... are lighter--but not by much, at around 139 pounds. Although rocket belts come with sturdy frames, they don't include strength-boosting exoskeletons. Your back and legs are doing the heavy lifting, not only keeping you from buckling, but from topping over backwards like an overturned turtle.

Yea, OK, but wouldn't a Jet Pack be better?

Jet packs might prove slightly lighter than rocket belts, thanks to dramatically improved fuel efficiency, but the real advantage would be better controlled landings. ... a jet-powered device would make relatively gradual turns, particularly during low-speed operations, such as takeoffs and landings. And when your landing gear is made of flesh and blood, coming in "hot" is to be avoided.

Unfortunately, jet packs are going to be heavy. And if enough people buy them, someone is bound to lose control, and destroy his or her knees. But if tomorrow's jet packs deliver on even a fraction of what these companies are promising, it might just be worth it.

So, they will be lighter. But heavy. Is that heavy as in "Oh wow, a Jet Pack. Heavey, man..."

Jet packs, however, could change everything. All three major players are planning to release systems with exponentially greater range than their current rocket belts. Last year, JetPack International founder Troy Widgery told Popular Mechanics that by the end of 2007, the company would release the T73, a jet-fuel-powered turbine belt capable of 19 minutes of flight. When we contacted him for an update on the $200,000 device, Widgery said, "We were trying to have it by the beginning of 2008, but it could be the middle now."

That is perfect. Just in time for my birthday! I just know it, I have a feeling. I'm going to get a jet pack for my birthday.

It's a hard thing to do, bursting bubbles, but here goes: You're as likely to fly a rocket belt as an F-22. In other words, at this moment, it's physically possible to be a rocketeer. But this is a very select group, and despite years of promises, membership is still closed to the public. ... So ... we're left where we began, with a childhood fantasy

So, what are they saying exactly? Does this mean I'm not getting a Jet Pack?

Maybe I'll just build my own.


More like this

You have some options:
Grab a liter-size bottle of Coke in each hand, shake well, remove the caps, and run around with arms outstretched until you take off.
Tie a bunch of helium-filled balloons to a lawn chair and sit down. Be sure to carry a BB gun for use as a buoyancy-reduction device.

Both of these methods have been tried. The balloon guy made the news when he discovered how course his descent control was.