18 May 2010

Future's Here NOW: Buy Your Own Jet-Pack!

As a boyhood Lost in Space fan in the late 60s, the idea of a jet-pack was about as enticing a concept imaginable... prior to discovering girls, anyway. And today -thanks to a couple tech startups- that dream is a reality... albeit with a few drawbacks. Popular Mechanics reports:

To some extent, everyone's in the market for a jet pack. But since Bell Labs built the first rocket belt (the correct, if less exciting, name) in 1953, potential buyers have been stymied by two problems: Rocket belts aren't for sale, and even prototypes run on modern-day fuel (as opposed to whatever the Jetsons use) — which means rocket belts can weigh upwards of 100 pounds, with only enough fuel to stay aloft for under a minute. Now, a pair of companies have solved one of these problems — rocket belts are for sale.

Mexican start-up Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana (TAM) offers its custom-built TAM Rocket Belt for $250,000, which includes flight and maintenance training. On a full tank of hydrogen peroxide the belt weighs 124 to 139 pounds (the bigger the pilot, the bigger the belt), and provides 30 seconds of flight. 

TAM's sole competitor is Jetpack Inter­national, a Colorado-based company that sells what it calls "the world's longest-flying jet pack." Technically speaking, it's true — the hydrogen-peroxide-burning Jet Pack H202 can stay in the air for 33 seconds, 3 seconds longer than TAM's model. The H202 weighs 139 pounds, and is competitively priced at $155,000, flight classes and all.Jetpack International founder Troy Widgery is the first to point out the drawbacks of current short-flight rocket belts. "If something goes wrong, you can get killed," Widgery says. "Thirty-three seconds of fuel makes an inexperienced pilot twitchy." The solution? Ditch the rocket belt, and build a bona fide jet pack (okay, jet belt). Widgery plans to release the T73 Turbine by the end of the year; it's a $200,000 model that will burn jet fuel, allowing it to stay airborne for 19 minutes. 

Not to be outdone, TAM is working on a propane-burning jet belt, though it hasn't said when it will be available. While swapping inert hydrogen peroxide for propane or Jet-A fuel has obvious drawbacks, jet belts would be, for many, a childhood dream come true. "With 19 minutes you can take things slower," Widgery says. "You aren't spending the whole flight thinking about where to land." 

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