Many a morning on a stalled subway car involves dreams of personal jetpacks wafting through my commute-addled brain. So that same brain lit up with cautious excitement on news that a much-hyped jetpack from New Zealand's Martin Aircraft has gotten the green light for manned test flights.
"For us, it's a very important step because it moves it out of what I call a dream into something which I believe we're now in a position to commercialize and take forward very quickly," Martin Aircraft CEO Peter Coker told news agency AFP.
If the manned-flight tests go as hoped, Martin says a jetpack for the general public could hit the market in 2015 (and by general public, we mean people with at least $100,000 to spare). A version designed for the military and first-responder emergency crews could be ready for delivery a year before that.
The jetpack, which Martin Aircraft calls a "motorbike in the sky," is made of a carbon fiber composite with a bit of Kevlar for the rotor. A gasoline engine drives ducted fans that produce enough thrust to lift the one-person aircraft into a vertical takeoff and enable sustained flight before a vertical landing (in a 2011 test, the jetpack stayed aloft, with a dummy on-board, for more than seven minutes -- a record). Fortunately for those of us accustomed to getting from home to work and back with our feet on the ground, it comes equipped with a ballistic parachute system.
Aviation enthusiasts and sci-fi fans -- and annoyed commuters, no doubt -- have followed the Martin Jetpack with interest since an earlier prototype's coming-out party at the Oshkosh air show in the summer of 2008. The fact that the craft couldn't get more than 3.5 feet off the ground at that time didn't stem the enthusiasm over the notion of "Jetsons"-style travel being closer than originally thought.
The company's latest prototype, the P12, is the first model to gain Civil Aviation Authority certification for manned flight. "Changing the position of the ducts has vastly improved the jetpack's performance, especially its maneuverability," says the company, which has been testing this prototype via remote control.
The P12 can climb more than half a mile and travel at a speed of about 43 mph.
The New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority says test flights of the P12 will be subject to strict safety requirements, and that flights will not be allowed to go higher than 20 feet above the ground or 25 feet above water. Should the manned tests help lead to futuristic-style jetpack travel, a particular country's regulations will determine whether drivers need a pilot's license to fly one.