I always like it when the Wall Street Journal has a front page story that’s not about the economy, politics, or world events. For one thing, it may mean that the usual flood of bad news has temporarily slowed down. Plus it’s usually more fun to read.
Today it’s about jetpacks (and people who fly them). They’ve been around for decades, so it’s not exactly breaking news. But it was news to me that people use them outside of stunts for movies. For that matter, I wasn’t too sure the stunts in the movies involved any real jetpacks.
[Disclaimer: As the WSJ article points out, what are commonly called jetpacks are more properly called rocket packs. A true jet pack would require turbines to mix the fuel with air.]
I’m not sure what some people find so appealing about the idea. But then, I’m not a guy. One of our pastors explained, last Christmas, that one of the main criteria in finding a good present for a guy was that it have a power cord. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it needs a motor – a jetpack lacks a power cord, but a hydrogen peroxide-powered motor probably more than makes up for that lack.
I remember how excited my husband was when The Rocketeer came out in 1991. He wouldn’t be able to use a jetpack even if he had the $125,000 to pay for it, because he exceeds the weight limit (generally 180 pounds). But I’m sure he’d love the idea. (He’d really like to be able to just teleport, but rocketing around would beat fighting traffic.)
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work as a replacement for his Ford Taurus for commuting to work. Maximum flying time is approximately 30 seconds, and even at 35 mph, that would barely get him out of our neighborhood (assuming he could avoid getting caught in one of the many trees that line the streets). And at $250 a gallon (please note the absence of a decimal point), the fuel costs are even worse than what most people complain about.
For now, jetpacks are primarily the toys of people with the money – and obsession with the idea – to devote tens of thousands of dollars so they can risk to life and limb (no deaths have been reported, but burns and joint damage may require a cover story when trying to get insurance to cover treatment). There is also at least one company that offers performances, and is apparently a great crowd-pleaser.
There are apparently jetpack “plans” offered on the internet, but Mythbusters has determined that a pack built using such plans is inadequate to get a person off the ground. There’s plenty to learn about the technology on the internet, though. Check here to learn how the packs work, and here to learn about the variety of technologies and individuals/companies using them. Scientific American explains why jetpacks will “never live up to the expectation Buck Rogers set in the 1920s.”
But Popular Mechanics reported last year that a true jet pack (complete with turbines to burn jet fuel – or kerosene or diesel) was in the works, allowing flight time of up to 19 minutes. Jetpack International‘s own website lists max time as only 9 minutes (and max distance as 11 miles). But as the T-73 still hasn’t been released, wannabe rocketeers will have a wait a while longer.