Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Jetpack invention reaches 5,000ft as futuristic transport gets ever-closer to commercial use
Travelling by jetpack used to be something only seen in science fiction.
But the first commercial suit could soon be on sale following another successful step on the flight towards production.
Over the weekend, a team of New Zealand inventors behind the Martin rocketman suit conducted a test flight that saw them soar to 5,000 feet.
In the test, carried out over the Canterbury region of the country, a dummy took the place of a passenger as it was flown by remote control from a helicopter.
And in another first, the suit then descended to 2,000 feet before deploying a parachute and landing, albeit with rather a large bump.
The flight lasted around ten minutes, making it the longest ever recorded.
The successful test brings the reality of flight by jetpack another step closer after 40 years of development by inventor Glenn Martin.
Mr Martin has spent NZ$12million on the venture, but now hopes to bring in more investment and possibly even start mass production.
This weekend's flight follows on from a test which took place in April that saw the invention reach 100ft and fly for seven minutes.
Following the test Mr Martin said: 'This successful test brings the future another step closer.
'We limited the jetpack to 800ft/min climb so the chase helicopters could keep up.
The company has reported that it will now enter another period of intensive testing period to refine technology and performance over extended and continuous hours of operation.
In the past two years we've gone from unveiling a world leading invention to a company on the verge of international commercialisation of both the manned and unmanned versions of the jetpack.,' Martin Aircraft chief executive Richard Lauder said.
The jetpack was original unveiled at a U.S. airshow in 2008, when the aircraft did not go higher than 6ft - an arm's reach from a watchful ground crew - or fly for longer than 45 seconds.
Given the success of the trial, the first ‘jet-ski in the sky’ could now be dispatched for solo flights by the end of the year at a price of around £50,000 ($75,000) per machine.
Designed to be the ‘simplest aircraft in the world’ the Martin Jetpack will be a breeze to fly, according to Mr Martin.
He said: ‘You just strap it on and rev the nuts out of it and it lifts you up off the ground.
‘It’s just basic physics. As Newton said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So when you shoot lots of air down very fast you go up and you're flying.
Mr Martin says 2,500 people have already signed up for to buy the jetpack, with inquiries coming from Middle Eastern royalty and U.S. millionaires.
The two-litre 200-horsepower gasoline engine powers two ducted fans that can soar across the skies at 60mph at heights of up to 160ft.
The jetpack, which produces up to 6000rpm (revolutions per minute), carries enough fuel to fly for 30 minutes.
The invention’s deployment is likely to be as a ground-breaking defence tool with the U.S. military, which first tested jetpacks in the 1960s, and U.S. border control the first organisations to take delivery of the device.
Mr Martin, a 50-year-old father of two, sees the military version of the jetpack being used in hard-to-access areas, war zones to patrol borders and, if unmanned, to make difficult deliveries by remote control.
It could also be used in counter terrorism operations, as an airborne missile platform and mobile surveillance unit.
The New Zealander created the Martin Aircraft Company in 1998 specifically to develop a jetpack that could fly 100 times longer than the 28 seconds of its predecessor, the Bell Rocket Belt.
The Bell Rocket Belt was made famous by presentations at Disneyland, the 1984 Summer Olympics and an appearance in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball.
The belt could carry a man over 30ft-high obstacles and reached speeds of up to 10mph but its limited flying time of just 20-30 seconds and huge fuel consumption at $2,000 per flight made the device impractical and uneconomical.
By contrast, the Canterbury company’s latest jetpack costs just 15 cents for around 20 seconds of air-time.
The jetpack will be fitted with electronic stabilisers and computer aided flight controls while a roll cage and ballistic parachute system will also come as standard.
The engine, fuel tank and pilot are positioned between and below the lift-fans to lower the centre of gravity and prevent the machine turning upside down.
While the tests are a huge advancement in bringing the device to the shelves, it is still unclear how aviation authorities will treat the jetpack.
Weighing just 250lbs, users in many European countries, including Britain, should not need to be licensed. However, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is still considering an official response.
Either way, Martin Aircraft Company said any attempt to fly the jetpack without professional instruction would be ‘extremely foolhardy’.
The company will require all owners to undertake an approved training programme before flying the aircraft with personal users taking delivery in around 18 months.