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?
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.
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.
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.
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?