As a child, I imagined that the not-too-distant-future would be a technical wonderland. Cars would be gone and jet packs would be plentiful. Interstellar travel would be as easy as taking the bus, and just as cheap. Quick and affordable knowledge enhancing mind rays would make tedious classrooms a thing of the past. And of course, all of this was to happen by the year 2000.
As I matured, reality kicked in and gave my fantasies the boot. But, like any other gadget-obsessed male (dork), I still wonder about my jet pack. So how far are we along, might there be a day on the horizon when personal jet packs become a reality?
Don’t hold your breath.
Jet packs are available, but they aren’t practical or affordable. The technology isn't there yet and unfortunately, humans just weren’t designed to fly around with a rocket strapped to their back for a sustained period of time. Damn you science fiction!
One of the first fictional depictions of a jet pack was on the cover of “Amazing Stories” in August 1928. Jet packs didn’t become a reality however, until the Second World War. Near the end of the War, German scientists began experimenting with small, wearable pulse tube jets. The first device, called the “Himmelstürmer” (Skystormer) was designed to make calculated jumps of approximately 60m at an altitude of up to 15m. The “jump pack” was intended to allow German engineers to cross obstacles like barbed wire or mine fields. The device was never used in combat.
At the end of the war, the device was handed over to an American scientist named Wendell Moore at Bell Aerosystems. After years of experiments, Bell developed the first successful jet pack in 1961. Named the “Rocket Belt,” Moore’s device only had a maximum hover time of 21 seconds, an altitude of 10m, and a range of 150m. While the device wowed spectators, the army was disappointed. The device required a ground team to service the belt before and after lift-off and each flight required 5 litres of hydrogen peroxide. Seeing no military application for Moore’s invention, the army canceled the program.
The jet packs that exist today are mostly based on Moore’s design. Although called a “rocket belt,” jet packs don’t use rockets. Their thrust is provided by hydrogen peroxide, which when mixed with nitrogen, creates the pressurized steam that propels the pack. Jet packs are also still bulky contraptions. The average jet pack weighs 125 lbs.
They aren’t easy to fly either. It’s like "trying to stand on a beach ball in a swimming pool," described Bill Suitor, a Bell Aerospace test pilot who famously piloted a jet pack during the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games.
Today, several companies are working on various different types of jet packs, but most still rely on hydrogen peroxide for fuel.
In the last few years, Trek Aerospace has made some advances by going back to the drawing board. Instead of using a pack, Trek’s design is more like a large platform. With two ducted fans and a small engine, the “Springtail Exoskeleton Vehicle” weighs twice as much as hydrogen peroxide jet pack. However, the device can travel at 97 km/h for a distance of 117 km. Currently, there are no plans to make the device available to the public.
If you want to purchase a jet pack, Jet Pack International, offers the T-73 at the low cost of $2,000,000. The jet pack has an estimated flight time of 9 minutes and can reach a maximum height of 76m. Training is included in the sticker price.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
By Stephen M.