First real jetpack: Yours for only $100,000

Flying to work on a jetpack comes closer to reality as the Martin Aircraft Company ramps up to produce 500 practical and affordable jetpacks per year

Patrick Steen Special to CNET News
4 min read

It's not often that a James Bond moment comes true. Sure, we've had A View to a Kill's robot dog reincarnated through Sony's Aibo, but ever since 1965 we've wanted to fly Sean Connery's Thunderball jetpack. Finally we might have that chance with the Martin Aircraft Company's launch of the world's first commercially available jetpack.

Combining two carbon-fibre and Kevlar composite propellers, what sets the Martin Jetpack apart is its ability to fly for 30 minutes. Sure, it's not going to take you to Paris and back, but that's a massive leap forward from previous jetpacks' mere 30 seconds.

Producing 600 pounds of upwards thrust to reach top speeds of 60 miles per hour, this puts the pack at a max range of 30 miles per tank, so there's plenty of room to get from Greenwich to Hyde Park -- and at a flight height of up to 1.5 miles you won't be bumping your bottom on the Gherkin. Also, unlike previous packs, this one doesn't run on hydrogen peroxide (the stuff you dye your hair with), utilising a 19l tank of everyday petrol to get you from A to B.

Based in Christchurch, New Zealand, Martin Aircraft Company aims to sell 500 jetpacks a year at a price of approximately $100,000 (£67,000) per unit -- an manufacturing effort made possible following a partnership with an unnamed international aircraft company, The Telegraph reports.

The dual-propeller packs come from the mind of Glenn Martin, who's been working on the concept since 1981. It wasn't until 2005 that his ninth prototype achieved sustained flight times, resulting in the product's commercialisation today.

It might look a little cumbersome, and stretch the definition of 'pack' (are you strapping it on, or strapping yourself in?) but Martin's jetpack shows us where previous inventors might have been going wrong, finally taking the concept out of science-fiction and slap bang into our skyline.

"If someone says, 'I'm not going to buy a jetpack until it's the size of my high-school backpack and has a turbine engine in it', that's fine," Martin told The New York Times. "But they're not going to be flying a jetpack in their lifetime."

So with the rude realisation that we won't look as cool as The Rocketeer, we'll have to be content with strapping two jet engines to our back. This surprisingly makes it mighty safe, self-righting itself if you accidentally let go of the controls, due to a centre of gravity that's below its 'centre of pressure'. The pack also comes with a low-altitude ballistic parachute, so if you find yourself low on fuel, just pull the toggle and float down gently.

Will I be able to fly one to work?

Since Martin's jetpack is classed as an ultralight aircraft, weighing less than 115kg, you won't need a pilot's licence in the UK, though you'll need to complete Martin Aircraft's own training programme before the company will send one to your address. Oh, and you'll have to weigh between 10 and 17 stone, with the lower-end requirement prompting visions of children flying off into space because they're too light.

What will sadly bring you crashing back down to Earth is the fact that current air-traffic control technology can't cope with jetpack commuters just yet. We might have to wait 10 years before the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implements its Blade Runner-like 'highways in the sky' technology, and we'll possibly have to wait longer in the UK.

That means the technology will be relegated to recreational use, so although you won't be able to avoid the overcrowding of the Tube anytime soon, you can use your jetpack in your back garden as long as you cough up a 10 per cent deposit and bag yourself a 12-month production slot on the Martin Aircraft Web site. Excuse us while we find £5,800 down the sofa and dream of soaring over London.

And Now, A Brief History of the Jetpack

The dream of a personal flying device has inspired people since ancient times, but jetpacks specifically have been around as long ago as the 1920s, when they first appeared in the science-fiction novel The Skylark of Space. Soon the contraption graced the back of comic-book hero Buck Rogers.

It wasn't until 1961 that jetpacks met reality with Harold Graham piloting Wendall Moore's Bell Rocket Belt in the first untethered flight across Niagra Falls. With the release of Thunderball in 1965, James Bond's antics skyrocketed Bell Aerosystems' jetpack into thousands of requests for its sale. There was just one catch: the Rocket Belt could only fly a measly 26 seconds on a full tank.

Bill Suitor provided the jetpack with its largest audience at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and in 1995 the RB-2000 promised to fly 50 per cent longer than the 60s technology. This still only meant just 40 seconds total flight time, and the device left the public eye due to controversy with its inventers, leaving one owner dead and the other two behind bars.

The Naughties saw resurgence in the technology when stuntman Eric Scott claimed the Guinness world record for the highest jetpack flight at 46m above London in 2004. Stuart Ross, a Thomson airline pilot, has been badgering away with jetpacks in the back of his shed in West Sussex for a number of years, but his hydrogen-peroxide powered rocket belt still suffers from the old problem of a 30-second flight time.

This limitation means more people have stepped on the Moon than have flown jetpacks, leading writer Mac Montandon, to ask "Where's my f****** jetpack?" in Jetpack Dreams. Thanks to the Martin Aircraft Company that question may now garner a positive, and no doubt just as expletive-filled, response.