From AirVenture 2008 – Given the competition, most product announcements at EAA AirVenture draw fair to middling crowds. That’s what I expected for the AeroShell Square debut of what the Martin Aircraft Company calls “the world’s first practical jetpack.”
Like many of my generation, I grew up with the Bell Rocket Belt (which carried 30 seconds of caustic rocket fuel and had a nasty habit of breaking the pilot’s legs on hard landings). When facing traffic and other frustrating situations I dreamed of jetting away from them like James Bond in Thunderball.
Apparently, I’m not the only one. The crowd awaiting the press event stretched across AeroShell Square as far as I could see from my 6-foot-5 vantage point. I’d guess there were 8,000 to 10,000 people there, but there might have been more on the other side of the Boeing Dreamlifter.
We were a pretty patient crowd, too. The event was supposed to start at 9:30, but it started about 45 minutes late because we had to move, twice, to let the Dreamlifter by, and again to wedge Glacier Girl into her AeroShell Square display tiedown. Moving that many people who’ve been standing in the sun for a half hour or more is just about as simple as solving a Rubik’s Cube.
Martin Aircraft is a family affair. From New Zealand, Glenn Martin has dedicated his life to developing the jetpack, which, he said, will fly a 250-pound-plus pilot for 30 minutes on regular auto gas. The jetpack complies with ultralight regulations and is easy to fly. Glenn’s wife, Vanessa, was the first to fly it, and his 16-year-old son Harrison is the test pilot.
Being about 15 people back from the front I couldn’t see much, but this is what the press kit says: the Jetpack uses patented fan jet technology, has redundant systems, a ballistic parachute, and impact absorbing undercarriage. Because it meets ultralight requirements, you don’t need a license.
The Martin Jetpack was to fly free with Harrison at the controls, but the crowd wouldn’t back up far enough to provide a safe area. So he hovered, with two guys holding on to the gear legs. If I looked just right I could see his black helmet rise above the crowd. Afterwards I trotted toward the Martin Exhibit, but those at the back of the crown beat me there. I had to settle for the Martin website when I got home.
I got a clearer view of its short hover on ABC’s World News. Charlie Gibson thought it was cool, too, but he said it needed to fly higher than three feet. It the pilot would have had the room to fly safely, I’m sure he would have. Never the less, it’s still cool, and I want one. — Scott Spangler