Where Is My Jet Pack?
CREDIT: Yves Rossy | www.jetman.com
Fifty years ago, Bell Aerosystems completed the first successful flight with its Rocket Belt, hovering about four feet above the ground and flying a distance of more than 100 feet.
A half-century later, the jet pack lives on but it has yet to meet the sci-fi dreams of passing generations. From Buck Rogers in Amazing Stories to the futuristic police in "Minority Report," the jet pack has not only captured the imagination of popular culture, but also the interest of NASA and the Department of Defense. Although progress has been slow, with limited advancements in the first 50 years, there is hope for the next 50.
“Let’s pretend we’re in the late 1800s and talking about automobiles,” said Andy Filo, who works on special projects at Jet Pack International. “The conversation would be ‘How will we make enough steam?’ The internal combustion engine hasn’t been fully realized yet.”
It will take just that sort of engineering breakthrough to move to the sci-fi version of a jet pack that can allow anyone from a police officer to a tourist to fly through the air for significant lengths of time, Filo said.
Jet fuels, in general, are heavy — at least if you need enough to get you off the ground and into the air. The weight of a jet pack has come down over the decades, but the most successful products today still weigh more than 100 pounds.
Starting with the 1960s, most jet packs have used hydrogen peroxide as the fuel. When hydrogen peroxide is put in contact with a catalyst, such as silver, it decomposes into steam and oxygen — making it a relatively safe option for something that’s strapped directly to your body.
The drawback is that the power produced from hydrogen peroxide does not last very long, only about 30 seconds. About 70 percent of the fuel is used to overcome gravity, and that doesn’t leave much for zipping around.
“Hydrogen peroxide was preferable because the engine was just so simple,” Filo told InnovationNewsDaily.
But today, jet pack companies are exploring other options. Martin Jetpacks is using gasoline, and claim they can fly for up to 30 minutes and as far as 8,000 feet. Martin plans to sell their product for about $86,000. Martin Jetpacks, however, use fans for lift, making it more of a personal aircraft strapped to your back, rather than a true jet pack, which have only thrust.
In 2012, Jet Pack International is releasing the T-73 model, which will have an approximate nine-minute flying time and will run on Jet A fuel, which is the jet fuel used in commercial airplanes. Filo also noted that advancements in turbine engines could be used in future jet packs.
No matter what the engine type, though, hours of uninterrupted flying time are still the realm of sci-fi, unless you’re in space. In zero gravity there could be hours of flight time, Filo said. “It’s a very fascinating application.” Astronauts already use a backpack propulsion system, Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER), as a rescue device in case they become untethered during spacewalks.
Here on Earth, people dream of just flying around the neighborhood, but the technology could have important applications for first responders. Jet packs could be used to track criminals in flight, or rescue people from burning buildings.
“If police had the advantage to fly over objects to get where the action is,” Filo said, “that would be a tremendous thing.”
This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to TechNewsDaily.