One of the enduring images/desires from my sf-tional youth is the jetpack or rocketbelt (depending on which set of aficionados you're talking to).
I mean, the whole idea is so cool—strap on, hit the switch, and soar into the air! Avoid traffic jams and crowded public transportation!
Like you’d be the only one up there with a jetpack...like there wouldn’t wind up being jetpack traffic jams and jetpack police and jetpack “lanes” in the skies...like the people who complain now about living under the flight paths for airports or commuter helicopters wouldn’t have their say on how low or where you could fly. And goodness knows what the safety regulations would be.
But the romance lives on.
And then, at the end of July, there was the unveiling of the Martin Jetpack, billed as “the world's first practical jetpack.”
Okay, then, let’s talk about “practicality.”
You can tell from the videos that this thing is loud. Like wearing a pair of vacuum cleaners at ear level—or a pair of small jet engines. The assistants in the videos are wearing ear protectors; the pilot is wearing a crash helmet which I assume also muffles the sound.
It has a parachute, in case the turbines stop—a good thing. Martin Jetpack says the frame and structure are designed to break away in certain areas (like the control arms) and to function like a roll cage in others (like the fan ducts).
All of the jetpack statistics below are from the Martin Jetpack spec page.
It’s 5 feet tall, 5 feet long, and 5.5 feet wide. That's a little smaller than the Smart Car (5 feet tall, 8 feet long, and almost 5 feet wide), but not much, and definitely larger than your average motorcycle. So you need a garage or the equivalent to keep it in, and where do you store it when you get to wherever you’re going?
Empty, it weighs almost 300 lbs. I’m guessing that the average person (oh, btw, pilots need to weigh between 140 and 250 lbs., which cuts out a lot of women) would need help getting it on and off. I expect it would need to be stored on a racking system of some sort. At least if you park it on the street, no one would be likely to pick it up and walk off with it....
The gas tank holds five gallons. Fuel burn is 10 gph. Range is about 31 miles. Top speed is 63 mph (limited by FAA regulations). The videos don’t show anything close to the jetpack’s supposed potential in terms of height, distance, or speed.
Martin considers the jetpack to fall into the FAA’s Ultralight category, so you don’t need a pilot's license to fly one, but you do need to be specially trained. That’s understandable; I expect a whole new batch of reflexes would have to be developed to handle one of these things. Training is expected to take a minimum of five days and there’s an extra fee for that on top of buying the jetpack in the first place.
The FAQ on Martin's website says that at this point in time, the jetpack is a recreational device, the airborne equivalent of the ATV or the jetski. So you can’t run errands or commute by jetpack, at least not yet (air traffic control would have a fit-not to mention local police forces, I expect). What’s the fun in owning a jetpack if you can’t land it in front of your startled colleagues and stroll nonchalantly into work?
At the moment, commissioning one of these—with delivery anticipated in twelve months—requires a ten percent down payment against a purchase price of $100,000.
Okay, I’m just not seeing the “practical” here.
And on a more basic level, somehow this jetpack seems inherently less cool to me than the old-fashioned rocketbelt version. The big fans look clunky and unattractive, though all that blank space cries out for decoration. And to me, at least, this jetpack lack that “welcome to the future” dynamic. Strapping a pair of big fans to your back isn’t really the same as jetting off into the sky, kwim?