The Great American Jet Pack: The Quest for the Ultimate Individual Lift Device
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For a few decades, jet packs seemed to be everywhere: on Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, Thunderball, and even the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics. Inventors promised we’d all be flying with them now, enabling us to zoom around effortlessly in the sky and getting us to work without traffic jams and trains. What happened to the jet pack?
In The Great American Jet Pack, Steve Lehto gives us the definitive history of this and related devices, explaining how the technology arose, how it works, and why we don’t have them in our garages today.
These individual lift devices, as they were blandly labeled by the government men who financed much of their development, answered man’s desire to simply step outside and take flight. No runways, no wings, no pilot’s license were required. Soaring through the air with the wind in your face and landing anyplace there was room to stand—could this be done? Yes, it could be, and it was.
But the jet pack was perhaps the most overpromised technology of all time. From the rocket belt to the jet belt to the flying platform and all the way to Yves Rossy’s 21st-century free flights using a jet-powered wing, this book profiles the inventors and pilots, the hucksters and cheats, the businessmen and soldiers who were involved with these machines. And it finally tells a great American story of a technology whose promise may, one day, yet come to fruition.
Aerojet-General believed enough was known about the fuel to make it a safe bet for testing.8 Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the report was a claim about the skill level necessary to fly one of the small rocket lift devices. Even though the work was still largely theoretical, Aerojet-General had drawn the conclusion that the device would “allow an operator who has limited ground training and no previous free flight experience to safely perform a variety of maneuvers.”9 While Stanley Hiller
Moore wrote in his conclusions that “hydrogen peroxide, although very successfully utilized on this program, would have a limited tactical use due to its handling characteristics and limitations at low ambient temperatures. A better tactical propellant must be found.”30 The army would have to think about that some more. It accepted the results of Bell’s work and declared the contract terminated. On June 8, 1961, before the contract was terminated, Moore and a contingent from Bell brought the
would offer an ideal way to get about on its craggy surface.”45 Graham was becoming quite a star but found it all a bit humbling as well. People broke into spontaneous applause when he landed and he had to remind himself that they were clapping for him. “After every flight, people are applauding. The reporters are there. The photographers, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, they’re looking at me.’“46 Whenever Graham traveled with the rocket belt, the support team often included as many as twenty people,
Yves Rossy was born in Switzerland in 1959 and is the man who may have brought the field of personal flight to its zenith. He piloted fighter jets in the Swiss air force and then became a commercial pilot. He loved to fly aircraft, but he wanted to fly himself. That is, to somehow remove the aircraft from the equation and make the experience closer to the personal flight of the individual lift devices. He met Arnold Neracher, the Swiss rocket belt engineer, and flew the belt that Neracher made,
engine in a V-1, known as an Argus As 014, was thirteen feet long. That would be a rather difficult thing to strap to one’s back. Of course, the engine could be downsized, but then the resulting engine would have been much less powerful. Could this have been done? Disproving negatives can be a difficult thing. In this instance, it makes more sense to try and track down the Himmel Sturmer story to its source. A writer using the name Christof Friedrich first wrote about the Nazi jet packs in a