Would You Fly Like Iron Man?

Humans have dreamed of flying since they first saw birds. Determined men and women have made the dreams come true with heavier than air aircraft. Now men and women are bringing the dream of human flight using jetpacks. Would you like to fly like Iron Man?

Flying Ironman Toy, would you fly like Ironman if you could?

The Dream

Seven years before the Wright brothers completed their first manned, powered, controlled flight, a novel called The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) mentioned a man hovering low with “the look of a pack on his back.”

The cover of Amazing Stories featured a man flying with a jet pack in 1928. A year after Lindbergh completed the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. 

Over the years, countless other stories and films and cartoons have used a jetpack. I’ll bet you can name one or two you’ve seen portrayed in film or fiction.

Early History

Public Domain

The Russian inventor Alexander F. Andreev created the first pack design in 1919. Andreev received a patent for the  oxygen-and-methane-powered pack with wings. But there is no record that anyone built or tested it. 

In 1956, Justin Capră informed the American Embassy that he invented a “flying rucksack” in Romania. No one was interested. 

Project Grasshopper was a jump belt created by Thiokol Corporation engineers, Garry Burdett and Alexander Bohr in 1958. It used high pressure compressed nitrogen for thrust. It lifted a serviceman twenty-three feet in the air and could run up to thirty-one miles per hour. But lacking funding, they did no further testing.

The U.S. Army Is Interested

In 1959, Aerojet General Corporation won a U.S. Army contract to devise a jet pack or rocket pack. The Army called the project a “Small Rocket Lift Device” or SRLD.

In early 1960, Richard Peoples made his first tethered flight with his Aeropack.

In August of that year, the military learned of Bell Aerosystems engineer, Wendell F. Moore, already several years into developing a personal jet device. The Amy commissioned Bell Aerosystems to develop their SRLD with Wendell Moore as chief project engineer. He developed the rocket belt based on Justin Capră’s 1956 design.

The Space Age

April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Alas, we still can’t fly like Ironman.

On April 20, 1961, Harold “Hal” Graham completed the first successful untethered rocket belt flight rising eighteen inches off the ground. The flight lasted thirteen seconds and covered 112 feet. The Army terminated its contract with Bell after Moore reported that the belt used up its fuel in twenty-one seconds. It was difficult to pilot, and the loud engine noise was unacceptable.

In 1965, Bell Aerosystems concluded a new contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a jet pack with a turbojet engine. Complex to maintain, the pack had a short flight duration. It was bulky and loud. Any GI wearing the pack would be a target. The Army ended the project.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took man’s first steps on the moon.

Small Successes

Powerhouse Productions manufactured the Rocketbelt (June 1994). It provided thirty seconds of flight. The Rocketbelt flew during Michael Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour.

Powerhouse Productions organizes Rocketbelt performances at parades, Super Bowls, races, and on television shows.

In 2008, Martin Jetpack, a New Zealand-based manufacturer, demonstrated a personal flying device. But it didn’t use jets.


martinjetpack / CC

Winged Jet Packs

Various inventors turned to developing turbojets and wings and wing suits in the 2000s. Visa Parviainen jumped from a hot air balloon with the jet engines attached to his feet.

An airplane lifted Swiss ex-military and commercial pilot Yves Rossy to altitude. He wore a winged pack with rigid airplane-type carbon-fiber wings. The wings unfold while in free-fall, and he then can fly horizontally for several minutes, landing with the help of a parachute.

Many others hope to develop a successful winged jetpack, including Fritz Unger in Germany.

True Jet Packs

Jetpack Aviation demonstrated a true jet pack in front of the Statue of Liberty in November 2015

In 2017, Richard Browning of Gravity Industries revealed his jet pack at a TED talk in Vancouver.

Browning and his company continue to refine the jet pack.

Would You Fly Like Iron Man?

In 2019 former Mythbuster, Adam Savage, built a titanium Iron Man suit modeled directly from Marvel Studios, hoping to fly like Iron Man. Savage reached out to Browning. And together, they did it. .

Today, Browning’s jet pack has new possibilities. Watch this demonstration of a paramedic with a jet pack.

This video from Dubai shows another real-world use for jet packs. (Note the jet packs in use may not be from Browning and Gravity). 

Would You Fly?

Right now regular folk can learn to fly Browning’s jetpacks for fun. Browning has an electric version (battery run) jetpack. He says that battery technology must advance before that version will be practical and affordable.

I’ve dreamed of the Jetson’s car, a flying car. But what if we all could be Rocketman or Rocketwoman? Instead of a bike, a motorcycle or a scooter, can you see yourself jetting to work? The occasional accident might be spectacular in a horrific way. But, like riding bikes, wouldn’t it give you a rush of freedom? I sure would like to try. Would you fly like Iron Man?

A.I. Surveillance, Are We Ready?

What if with A.I. Surveillance we could find every missing person? There are more than 600,000 persons reported missing in the United States each year.  That’s about 2,000 per day.  Many of those persons are found or identified. But tens of thousands remain missing for more than a year. About 4,400 unidentified bodies are discovered each year in the U.S. Approximately 1,000 remain unidentified after one year. 

B&W image of an eye with a person's head in the center of it. What if with AI Surveillance we could find every missing person?

As appalling as those number are, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates more than 800,000 children are reported missing each year. They know this estimate is low because of under reporting and lack of statistics in many countries. 

The Future is Near

According to Garner’s Top Ten Tech Predictions for 2019 on and beyond () “By 2023, there will be an 80 percent reduction in missing people in mature markets compared with 2018 due to AI face recognition.”

Is this good new or bad? Do you envision a world of the Minority Report or The Matrix?

Image of a laptop screen with vertical strips of green data. What if with AI Surveillance we could find every missing person?

How Good is A.I.?

Before you get too freaked out, let’s look at what level this A.I. Might function.

Things to Consider

The second two, A.G.I. And A.S.I, don’t exist. So let’s assume the facial recognition A.I. is only able to be as competent but faster than a human at facial recognition. 

Presumably, A.I. Surveillance with facial recognition will be more accurate and find missing children and wandering dementia patients faster. And that can only be a good thing, right?

But what about in the countries that don’t have the tech? Heck, what about the states and counties in the U.S. Alone, that don’t have that tech? Will we use facial recognition drones? Or supply free tech to those less fortunate?

What if the missing person wants to remain missing? Will we have more people “living off the grid?” 

What if we use facial recognition A.I. for crime solving? That would be good, wouldn’t it? However, is it still good if it’s identifying jaywalkers or parking rules violators?

Is One Life Worth A.I. Surveillance?

To my heart and mind, even one missing child is too many. Even one dementia patient lost is too many. A.I. Surveillance with facial recognition could save many with the potential to save hundreds of thousands. And if it solves crime…bonus. But the ethics and the reach of this program remain things that need consideration. Three years isn’t very long. What concerns do you have about A.I. Surveillance? 

Do You Dream of the Jetson Life?

What futuristic program(s) have you watched and wondered what life will be like that someday? As a science fiction writer, I can’t help but do that. I dream of the Jetson life. I’ve longed for the Jetson’s flying car and robots and a technology-filled home since I first watched the cartoon. Sadly, we’ve not come that far but there are amazing things on the horizon. Take a look with me.

The Flying Car

Photo of a "flying van" near a motel sign not exactly the Jetson life
Not exactly the Jetsons
Joy Engelman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

There are four prototypes discussed in this video. One is called Pal-V One. It’s a car-gyroplane hybrid. If you’ve read My Soul to Keep you know why this one appeals to me.

One of these flying cars runs on unleaded gasoline but you must be a pilot to fly it.

Another one claims that if you can drive a car, you can fly it. And one looks like a miniature space shuttle. It needs only a few hundred feet of flat surface to land. There’s a flying taxi, too. I hope it comes without taxi driver, Korben from The Fifth Element.

Home Cleaning Robots

Not exactly Rosie the robot, but we already have the Roomba vacuum and its kin.

This video discusses eight new robots.

Fedor is a humanoid robot but not intended to be a house cleaner. There are robotic exoskeletons to help children with disabilities learn to walk.

Frurion Prothesis Mech racer—an exoskeleton (A racing vehicle)

One robot captures the Lion Fish, a predator attacking the coral reefs in the Atlantic.

Patterned after the octopus, one robot can pick up hold and put down objects of any shape using suction cups on a tentacle.

The Stan Robotic Parking Valet is now in service in Paris France.

The Robots in this video are the most advanced robots in the world.

The first one discussed is a Japanese robot that actually worked as a news anchor on television. There are robots that can walk and run and avoid objects and ones that can converse with humans.

Home of the Future

This vision of the home of the future comes pretty darn close to the Jetson’s home. But push buttons are passé. Interactive mirrors and appliances are the thing.

Back to Reality

The science fiction often dreams big. We’ve got a way to go to reach the technology of the Jetson’s. But there are dreamers out there with the know-how and the funds to take the next step or two. Who knows? We may be living the Jetson life sooner than you think.