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Jetpacks set to become practical reality

A science fiction vision dating to the 1920s but never realised beyond short demonstrations may soon become commonplace if a New Zealand inventor’s 30-year quest to make a jetpack proves a commercial success.

Christchurch-based Martin Aircraft describes the Martin Jetpack as the world’s first practical jetpack. The single-user Jetpack, which has been under development by company founder Glenn Martin for almost three decades, is not a jetpack in the classic vision of a rocket-propelled personal flying backpack. Martin’s version is more of a wearable aircraft: composite airframe and purpose-built gasoline engine driving twin-ducted fans which produce sufficient thrust to lift the aircraft and pilot.

But testing is underway and customer deliveries could begin in mid-2014. The company is working with the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand on certification as a microlight.

For safety, production versions will feature a ballistic parachute system, internal roll cage and shock absorbing undercarriage. The flight control system includes an auto throttle system which automatically maintains the desired height. The company has also developed a flight training simulator.

Martin, which has a workforce of just 13 employees and contractors, is currently up to prototype number 12, with more than 50 take-offs and landings performed as part of the initial manned flying phase, says chief executive Peter Coker. The latest prototype, he says, features a change to the position of the ducts, which has resulted in “a quantum leap in performance”.

The next manned flights are planned in three to four months using a modified engine, including an improved crankshaft design and increased durability. Martin is building a second prototype – P12.2 – to allow for increased flight testing.

The Jetpack was originally intended for the recreational market, but interest is coming from other sectors, including defence and civil defence, so the first product to market will be a “first responder” version for uses like emergency medical aid, with a personal version to follow. “There is tremendous worldwide interest for the Jetpack across all continents and for all capabilities,” says Coker. “There has always been interest for recreational use from individuals, but first responders are starting to recognise the potential utility.”

And, he adds, an unmanned version is “attracting considerable interest”.

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