The three-year wait for a recreational jetpack may be almost over--assuming regulators give their approval.
New Zealand's Martin Aircraft said that its Martin Jetpack--which has a 200-horsepower piston gasoline engine that powers a couple of ducted fans--remained aloft for more than seven minutes in its latest test. That may not be enough time to get you to the store and back, but it represents a record.
A man on the ground flew the Martin Jetpack by radio control; a weighted dummy, "Jetson," served as the pilot. No mention yet on an updated timetable for putting a human through a rigorous series of test runs, though the company has previously said that it's on track to do just that sometime in the current quarter.
The jetpack itself is 5 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide and made of a carbon fiber composite with a pinch of Kevlar for the rotor. It uses regular gasoline and will travel a grand distance of 31.5 miles at a maximum speed of 63 mph, which should comfortably take you from home to office (and back) in a jiffy, and with a lot of noise.
Since its coming-out party at the Oshkosh air show in the summer of 2008, Martin Aircraft has garnered more than the usual amount of attention lavished on a tech start-up. Given the associations that the concept of a jet pack conjures up with futuristic space-age travel--think George Jetson and his flying saucer--that's easy to understand.
Still, a note of caution is worthwhile. It remains unclear how the Federal Aviation Administration will respond. Although the agency did not answer a request for comment by the time this article was posted, the last time the FAA weighed in, it classified the jetpack as an experimental ultralight airplane. That description may suggest that any approval would be contingent upon first establishing the kind of technology that allows for this kind of traffic--especially if we're talking about a "jet ski for the sky," in the description once put forward by its inventor.
Although it is not bringing in any revenue, Martin Aircraft, which is based in New Zealand, has enlisted financial and legal advisers to bring it public. Last year, the per-unit price tag of the device it sells was estimated at a whopping $90,000, a figure that has since climbed by $10,000.