A Jetpack Nears Liftoff, but Creator Fears Dream Is Grounded

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 10:40 AM

But today, with the company he created seemingly on the verge of triumph, Martin worries his dream is slipping away. Martin Aircraft Co. says it'll deliver its first experimental jetpacks to customers this year, a large development for the new technology.

Glenn Martin was sitting in a bar with his college buddies thirty-five years ago when they got to wondering: What ever happened to flying cars and jetpacks?

The following day, the New Zealander began looking for answers in the science library, triggering a lifelong quest to construct a jetpack. But today, with the company he created seemingly on the verge of triumph, Martin worries his dream is slipping away.

Martin Aircraft Co. says it'll deliver its first experimental jetpacks to customers this year, a huge development for the new technology. But the jetpack is being designed for first responders love firefighters, an outcome that falls brief of Martin'south vision of a recreational jetpack that anybody could fly.

The inventor has presently left the company he founded. What'south more, he says, he'south asked for his title to be removed.

"All us guys know what a jetpack'south for," he says with a smile at his Christchurch home. "With a jetpack, you rescue the world and you obtain the girl. Right?"

Jetpacks have frequently been portrayed that way in books and movies. They've formed portion of humanity'south utopian future vision for the past century. Fictional characters from Buck Rogers to Elroy Jetson have used them, and a genuine jetpack wowed the crowds at the opening of the one thousand nine hundred eighty-four Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Martin, fifty-six, grew up in the S Pacific, thousands of miles (kilometers) from Houston. But he followed the space race avidly.

"I still recollect sitting in class and listening to Neil Armstrong step onto the moon," he says. "And I believed, I suppose, that we'd all have flying cars and jetpacks and bases on Mars by the time I was an adult."

Storied though they may be, jetpacks have a troubled history. The Bell Aerospace rocket belt, developed in the one thousand nine hundred sixty, showed it was possible. However, that jetpack couldn't carry much wt and could stay airborne for less than thirty seconds. It was for show, nothing more.

In the mid-1990s, three Houston men decided they'd attempt to create one. Instead, they made a mess. They fell out over money and their venture ended with an unsolved murder, an abduction, a man in jail and a device that had vanished.

Peter Coker, Martin Aircraft'south chief executive, says he believes the best business map is to create jetpacks for first responders and later for other commercial operators. Once all the supply chains are in place, he says, the company can then turn its attention to building a personal jetpack.

"We're presently an aviation company," Coker says. "Before, it was very much the kiwi dream. But you've to get that commercial path."

Glenn Martin'south vision still holds true, Coker says: Creating and selling a personal jetpack remains portion of what the company is all about.

But Martin doubts the company will ever make one.

When he began his research, he wanted to make better on the Bell rocket belt and create a jetpack that could lift a solidly built guy love himself and a safety parachute, then stay airborne for at least thirty minutes. He decided to utilize ducted fans, making the word jetpack something of a misnomer.

During the one thousand nine hundred eighty, he worked in the pharmaceutical industry and built prototypes in his garage. He sponsored two Univ students to check his math. By one thousand nine hundred ninety-seven he needed a lightweight pilot, so he enlisted his wife, Vanessa, to create the inaugural flight. It lasted a few seconds.

More refinements eventually allowed the jetpack and its pilot to stay airborne for several minutes and complete controlled turns. Martin took inspiration from reading the Wright brothers' journals; in two thousand-eighth, he took a prototype to the Experimental Aircraft Organization airshow in Wisconsin.

He says he decided to construct his jetpack with straightforward components, including a piston engine that uses standard gasoline. He wanted to hold it tiny sufficient to be classified as ultralight aircraft, which in the U. S. don't typically require a pilot'south license to fly. He figured anyone could memorise to fly one after a 3-day course and be kept secure with a built-in parachute which would automatically deploy in an emergency.

But as he sought to lift funds for his fledgling company, Martin says, he began losing control. Along came investors, venture capitalists, and plans for an Initial Public Offering.

The company was listed on the Australian stock market in Feb latest year, and is presently majority owned by a Chinese company, KuangChi Science. It'south valued at about one hundred eighty million Australian dollars ($138 million), showing that investors are taking the concept of a commercial jetpack seriously.

Disillusioned with the direction the company was taking, Martin resigned as a director in June. He still owns a ten % stake, which he cannot sell before February.

"I'd picked up the rugby ball and taken it nearly to the finish line and felt it was time for other people to do the rest," he says.

Coker, sixty, a former officer in Britain'south Royal Air Force, has increased the staff from six to fifty-eight since taking the reins three years ago.

By late two thousand sixteen, he plans for the first customers to start using the jetpack prototype in real-time operations while providing feedback for further improvements. The company is also developing an unmanned jetpack, which will be used for transporting goods.

The company has signed preliminary agreements with several agencies, including Dubai'south civil defense department. Coker says Dubai and others are interested in jetpacks that can rescue people from skyscrapers, or keep out fires in them. He says jetpacks can obtain much closer to buildings than helicopters, and some people are calling them "high-rise lifeboats."

Obstacles remain. The jetpack will necessity to be cleared by aviation authorities. Martin Aircraft has been working with New Zealand'south Civil Aviation Authority on a new category for jetpacks, which Coker hopes will allow a template for other nations.

Coker says Martin hasn't formally asked for his title to be removed from the company, and he can't recall any informal approach. If the founder made an official request, Coker says, the board would consider the impact on branding and marketing before making a decision.

And Glenn Martin? Yes, he'south disappointed he didn't look the concept all the way through. On the other hand, he enjoyed a summer holiday with his family this year for the first time he can remember.

"Jetpacks are a comic thing. They create a lot of passion," he says. "Everybody loves the idea of a jetpack. But the reality is that it'south a lot of hard work."

The jetpack may see bulky, but Martin says you don't notice that when you're airborne — an experience he likens to living out his childhood dreams.

"The jetpack is all behind you. You can't look it," he says. "All you can look is your hands. It'south love some magic hand has lifted you up, and you're flying."

———

Chase Nick Perry on Twitter at: twitter. com/nickgbperry

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