July 30, 2008

Jet Pack Inventor Wows At Aviation Convention

For years Hollywood has envisioned futuristic jets packs as small as fire extinguishers, but Glenn Martin's new jet pack device is a piano-sized contraption weighing over 250 pounds that people get into instead of strapping on.

On Tuesday, thousands looked on as Martin's 16-year-old son fastened himself to the jet pack prototype. The contraption roared like a motorcycle, and as Harrison Martin lifted three feet off the ground, the engine became so loud that children covered their ears.

Harrison Martin hovered for nearly 45 seconds before setting the device down amidst applause.

The Martin jet pack was unveiled on Tuesday at AirVenture Oshkosh 2008, an annual aviation convention in east-central Wisconsin. In theory, the device can fly an average sized pilot 30 miles in 30 minutes on a 5-gallon tank of gas.

"Wow, that went better than expected," Glenn Martin said after the debut. "People will look back on this as a moment in history."

Currently, federal law limits the use of devices like jet packs, and with a $100,000 price tag, it's unclear whether people will invest in the machine.

The Martin jet pack adheres to the Federal Aviation Administration's classification of an ultralight vehicle, which means it carries only one passenger, and weighs less that 254 pounds.

Under current regulations, the ultralight classification means driver's won't need a pilot's license.

Unfortunately, ultralight vehicles can only be used "exclusively for sport or recreational purpose" according to the FAA, and cannot be used over crowded areas.

According to Martin, that's fine.  The inventor expects the contraption to be a toy for wealthy, but eventually sees it being used by the border-patrol, search-and-rescue units, and the military.

The jet pack uses an emergency parachute at altitudes over 400 feet. The unit is also designed with an impact-absorbing undercarriage to help soften rough landings.  More safety features are currently being developed.

Martin quit his pharmaceutical sales job to launch his jet pack company and says he is backed by investors, although he didn't provide names.

The debut test flight for the device was dealt mixed reviews. Some hoped to see the machine move in different directions, and go higher, while attendees with backgrounds in aviation called it an engineering marvel.

Entrepreneurs have chased the idea of a jet pack for 50 years, and were unable to get it off the ground. Martin's accomplishment allowed him to begin taking orders for his machine, which he plans to deliver by next year's AirVenture convention.

Previously German scientists experimented with creating a jet pack for use in World War II.

Researchers at Bell Labs eventually created a hydrogen peroxide powered jet pack, but it only provided a few seconds of flight.

Another company based out of California spent millions of military dollars on the SoloTrek Exo-Skeletor Flying Vehicle, but a 2002 test flight disappointed as the machine hovered for only 19 seconds.

Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana in Cuervavaca, Mexico currently sells custom-made rocket belts for $125,000. The belts only provide 20-seconds of flight, and are mainly used for halftime appearances at football games, and for advertising.

Denver-based Jet Pack International sells two hydrogen peroxide powered packs, and one jet fuel powered jet pack. According to the company an average sized pilot could travel 11 miles in nine minutes on a 5-gallon tank.

Kelly McLear, spokeswoman for Jet Pack International, said the company has "hundreds" people waiting for the jet pack, although no release is in the near future.

"Our No. 1 priority is safety," McLear said. "We're not going to put a product on the market unless we've checked it a million times over and worked all the bugs out."

No other companies have released plans to develop jet packs.


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