OSHKOSH, Wis. – The first public flight of a futuristic personal jet pack on Tuesday didn’t exactly conjure up images of “The Jetsons” flying saucer car, the power and grace of Superman soaring faster than a speeding bullet or the heroic Buck Rogers fighting evil warlords in outer space.

But the maiden launch of the Martin Jetpack, at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture show here, nonetheless provided a lift to the dream that ordinary people could one day fly free, albeit not as naturally, as a bird.

The rocket-like human flight machine, offered at the introductory price of about $100,000, is being marketed by the Martin Aircraft Co. of New Zealand as “the world’s first practical jet pack.”

It is powered by a 200-horsepower piston engine that runs on premium automobile fuel that can be purchased at a corner gas station. It is less volatile than some of the hydrogen mixtures that were used in earlier rocket packs, according to the manufacturer.

The engine is mounted directly behind the pilot, who for Tuesday’s premiere was 16-year-old Harrison Martin – the son of Jetpack inventor Glenn Martin, who has invested almost 30 years and untold dollars on the project.

“This is a proof-of-concept vehicle, experimental with a big ‘E,”‘ said Glenn Martin, who has spent the last 27 years developing the consumer-oriented Jetpack. “It’s still a newborn baby.”

Martin and his wife, Vanessa, who volunteered as the original Jetpack test pilot in the first of 11 prototypes stood by proudly as Harrison, strapped into the machine and wearing a crash helmet with a face shield and a fireproof flight suit, repeatedly revved the engine, which roared like a motorcycle, to warm it up.

Martin said the Jetpack is capable of flying at up to a little more than 60 miles per hour for as long as a half-hour and possesses flight controls nimble enough for pilots to carve figure-eights and other patterns in the sky, he said.

But Martin Aircraft employees held onto the Jetpack as young Harrison engaged the throttle. The Jetpack immediately lifted off, teetering somewhat clumsily forward and side to side as it hovered several feet off the ground during the flight demonstration.

The maneuver was an anticlimax to the buildup, and the presentation was kept brief – less than a minute – to ensure the safety of the crowd packed tightly around the Jetpack, Martin said.

Still, it represented one small step for what the machine’s creator hopes will become a giant leap for a whole new class of personal aircraft.

Air show spectators, who applauded and whistled when Harrison Martin successfully lifted off, were not disappointed by the results.

“Every single person dreams of flying, whether they go into aviation or not,” said Ray Hollins, 65, a private pilot who traveled from his home in Zimbabwe to attend his first Oshkosh air show. ” . . . Do you remember Capt. Marvel flying across the cinema screen? I think it’s just built-in youth. You watch birds and wish you could be like them because it’s the ultimate personal freedom.”

Although the prototype that was unveiled at the air show still needs more flight testing and refinement, Martin hopes to deliver the first 10 Jetpacks next year.

After the demonstration, Martin began accepting $10,000 deposits on the $100,000 personal aircraft from well-heeled enthusiasts. The deposits are fully refundable if he fails to deliver, he said.

Martin’s company is also developing an approximately 10-day flight training program, which Jetpack buyers will be required to pass.

The Jetpack pilot uses a two-handed stick control system that appears similar to a computer joystick.

One hand controls the Jetpack’s pitch and roll, while the other hand controls the throttle to raise up and lower the Jetpack.

As a safety measure, the Jetpack is equipped with a parachute that can be deployed in an emergency.

The Jetpack design includes an undercarriage with shock absorbers to protect the pilot.

“We call our undercarriage the Pogostick, so if you land hard it absorbs the energy for you,” Martin said.


But don’t expect the Jetpack to provide an alternative form of transportation to drivers who are stuck in traffic on congested expressways and would prefer to fly to work like George Jetson.

“People are going to use it primarily for recreation, like they have fun using a jet ski on the water,” Martin said. “It’s not practical for use as a commuting vehicle, just like the jet ski is not a good boat to go fishing on.”

The half-hour flight time that the Martin Jetpack can operate between refueling is 100 times longer than earlier rocket packs that used jets of escaping gases, according to Martin Aircraft Co.

The Bell Rocket Belt, designed in the 1950s and featured in movies and sporting events, can remain airborne for only 26 seconds.

The Martin Jetpack qualifies as an ultra-light flying machine under Federal Aviation Administration regulations. That means users do not need to acquire a pilot’s license, the size of the fuel tank is limited to 5 gallons maximum and the top speed cannot exceed 63 miles per hour.

It’s never been flown that fast, Martin said, adding that so far it has been piloted at the pace of “a fast run.”

Although Martin said changes to the prototype are aimed at “making something that the average person can fly,” controlling the Jetpack requires considerable coordination.

Test pilots to date have included helicopter pilots, former military pilots who have commanded Harrier jump jets capable of vertical takeoffs and Martin and his family.

“I want one. I think there should be a Jetpack in everybody’s garage,” said Stanley Evert, a private pilot from Virginia. “I have a mother-in-law I’d like to belt in and send to the moon.”

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