The elusive jetpack is one of those overpromised sci-fi toys most of us will probably never get to play with—though not for lack of trying over the last half century. Humans have imagined, researched, dreamed of, designed, and built personal flying machines of some sort since before most people even had cars. Now we're one step closer to the first recreational jetpack hitting the market.
This week, New Zealand-based company Martin Aircraft became certified to take what it calls "the world's first practical jetpack" out for a series of manned test flights. If all goes well, the company plans to start selling a consumer version of the jetpack in 2015, starting at $150,000 to $200,000 and eventually dropping to $100,000.
"For us it's a very important step because it moves it out of what I call a dream into something which I believe we're now in a position to commercialize and take forward very quickly," CEO Peter Coker told Agence France Presse.
The "dream" was that of inventor Glenn Martin, who started working on the jetpack 30 years ago, after being inspired by British sci-fi shows he watched a kid. While the Martin Jetpack isn't exactly the smooth flyer of James Bond fame, it's still pretty awesome to see the machine in action.
The jetpack is powered by a gas engine and two cylinders with fans, which give it enough thrust to lift off the ground at 13 feet per second, as high as 8,000 feet in the air (though the test flights will only go up to 20 feet high).
It can then cruise for 30 minutes at max speed of around 60 mph; an automated hover function makes it easy to fly, controlled by joysticks, according to the company. And of course, there's a parachute in case things go south.
The company unveiled a working prototype of the jetpack in 2008, and has since been tweaking the design to be safe enough to test on people. Now, the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority has issued an experimental flight permit—the home stretch before the jetpack can be sold to the public.
At this point, the thing is big—about 7 feet high and wide, and 400 pounds. Really it's more like a small aircraft than a big backpack—something you strap into rather than strapping on. To that, Martin told the New York Times back in 2008, "If someone says, 'I'm not going to buy a jetpack until it's the size of my high-school backpack and has a turbine engine in it', that's fine. But they're not going to be flying a jetpack in their lifetime."
Though first meant as a leisure product, there's already interest in the jetpack for more serious applications, like emergency response and military ops. From the website:
Defence – air mobile surveillance and communication hub, rapid insertion, airborne missile platform, UAV forward supply.
Civil Defense - emergency response, medic delivery, counter terrorism, border patrol.
When you need to get to someone fast, or in a place where you can't land a helicopter. Search and rescue teams working in hazardous terrain.
Recreation – recreational flights through dedicated tourism ventures, pilot training and private recreational sales.
So, will we all be flying to work in a few years? At this point, the jetpack can only be used in non-urban areas, but it's not inconceivable idea, the company writes. "At some stage in the future, commuting via jetpack may become a reality."