New jetpack jumps one step closer to our high-flying dreams

Morry Gash/AP
Harrison Martin takes a jetpack for a test flight at the annual AirVenture Fly-in Tuesday, July 29, 2008, in Oshkosh, Wis.

New Zealand inventor Glenn Martin blasted into the news yesterday with the unveiling of "the world's first practical jetpack." Showing off his creation at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisc., Mr. Martin strapped his 16-year-old son into the piano-sized pack and let him hover three feet above the ground. The crowd went wild.

Martin's device looks like two massive tea cups but roars louder than a pack of angry leafblowers. While the 200-horsepower jetpack is undeniably exciting (check out videos here and here), Martin's device still represents an early step in achieving the high-flying dreams of Hollywood jetpacks.

For one, it's not really a jetpack: The mechanisms run more like a car engine than an airplane. The petrol-powered piston engine uses fans to blast air downward, lifting the pilot vertically. The pack then directs the flow to move forward.

Second, it's never flown higher than six feet. But that's a matter of safety, not physics. The Martin rocketmen are still getting used to the contraption – since its first secret flight in 1997, no one person has used it for more than a total of three hours. So, they don't yet feel comfortable controlling its 600 pounds of thrust. But, "if you can fly it at 3 feet, you can fly it at 3,000 feet," Mr. Martin told the New York Times.

Just don't fly it over a populated area. This third hurdle to James Bond glory comes straight from the US government. Before bringing his invention to the states, Martin needed to make sure it conformed to FAA codes. Jetpacks fall under "ultralight vehicle" laws, which prohibit their use over a "congested area." The man is always trying to keep us down. On the up side, jetpacks don't require any licenses and may be enjoyed for "sport or recreational purposes." Like jetpack racing?

Martin plans to further tweak the device – this is his 11th model – and test drive the pack at heights of up to 500 feet in the next six months. We'll all be watching.

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