Personal jetpacks have been a quirky passion of a small group enthusiasts for many decades. Now the technology could be making a big leap forward: The world’s "first practical jetpack" has been approved for human testing by New Zealand aviation regulators, according to AFP. The manufacturer, Martin Aircraft, hopes to begin selling a jetpack model next year.
Inspired by the TV shows Lost In Space and Thunderbirds, inventor Glenn Martin began working on the technology in his garage more than three decades ago. To use the contraption, a rider straps himself into a frame with two propulsion cylinders and controls movements with a joystick. The latest design incorporates changes to the duct positioning, resulting "in a quantum leap in performance over the previous prototype," the company’s CEO told AFP.
Fast Company’s own resident jetpack expert, Mac Montandon, author of the book, Jetpack Dreams: One Man’s Up and Down (But Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention that Never Was, said the development looks promising:
That certainly appears to be a big technological breakthrough by Martin. But as The Independent notes, what they've come up with is closer to a mini helicopter than a true jetpack in the spirit of Buck Rogers, Boba Fett and even the rocket belt that Wendell Moore developed at Bell Labs in the late 1950s and 60s. So yes, jetpack enthusiasts should celebrate this leap forward. But maybe only with sobering sparkling cider instead of Dom Perignon.
The jetpack will only be practical if you have many thousands of dollars to spare, with costs potentially starting from $150,000 to $250,000, though the company thinks the price will drop over time. In a 2011 test flight carrying a dummy pilot, the Martin jetpack made it to 5,000 feet. Testing with humans will be restricted to 20 feet above land for now.
The first Martin jetpacks could be sold to the military or to emergency first responders. So what else is a jetpack good for? Perhaps escaping prison or house arrest, as the show Arrested Development demonstrated. Maybe Elon Musk, who is not shy about his desire for rapid personal transit, will buy one too.