Jetpacks may soon fly you to office, take rescuers to disaster-hit places in no time

Much like drones, jetpacks would significantly cut the time needed to transport life-saving items and could be of immense help to security personnel

Jetpacks may soon fly you to office, take rescuers to disaster-hit places in no time
Vince Reffet soaring through the sky with his jetpack. Image courtesy: Twitter/@jetmandubai

"Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"

Humans had always fantasised about having wings, and the Man of Steel speeding through the sky made us wonder if we could ever do something similar. The adrenaline rush that flying afforded has been dwelt upon in popular culture, and one is reminded of the James Bond movie Thunderball (1965) that showed the famous secret agent strapping himself into a jetpack and flying away beyond the reach of the gunmen who were chasing him. People have experimented with gliders and taken part in bungee jumping, but jetpacks are the real deal.

Imagine attaching yourself to a jetpack and whooshing through the air, above the milling crowd and a posse of cars, and reaching office well before time! Or even flying to pick up groceries. Or flying just to drive away the boredom arising out of hours of staring at the computer, sitting in a cubicle. No, we have not boarded a time machine and reached the future. Jetpacks may not take too long to be widely used if recent developments are anything to go by.

More than being used by the common public, their use would be a tremendous boon for rescue workers like firefighters, for example, and others providing essential service. Much like drones, jetpacks would significantly cut the time needed to send essential and life-saving items to their end-users. Jetpacks would also be of immense use for defence and law and order personnel, taking them to places that they would normally find difficult to reach quickly. 

Fifty-six years after Thunderball, the jetpack technology has developed in leaps and bounds and is being tested for a variety of specialised purposes. For instance, a recent video showed a UK Royal Marine testing out a jetpack that could assist in maritime boarding, dispensing with the need to descend on a rope from a helicopter. A jet suit for paramedics was recently tested by the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) in the Lake District in the UK, BBC reported. This came after a year of discussions between GNAAS and jetpack service provider Gravity Industries. 

The jetpack scene from Thunderball. Image courtesy: Youtube/James Bond 007

Legendary adventurer Vince Reffet stunned the world in 2015 with jaw-dropping visuals of using jetpacks to fly alongside the world's largest jetliner -- the Emirates Airbus A380 superjumbo. Reffet was famous for airborne feats using jetpacks and carbon-fibre wing packs.      

Thrills for the general public

Two companies, one in the US and the other in the UK, are now offering members of the public a chance to experience the thrill of flying with jetpacks, albeit for a fee, BBC reported. You don't have to be an experienced aviator or a trained pilot to fly with these jetpacks. The users are anchored by wires to a large metal frame to prevent them from flying away uncontrollably. While the UK's Gravity Industries is well-established in the jetpack space, it is rivalled by Jetpack Aviation, based in California in the US. It has already built several versions of its JB series jetpacks. 

Jetpack Aviation is mostly looking to tap the opportunities in the military and emergency services sectors. However, there is something on offer for the general public too. Aviation enthusiasts are given the chance to train on the company's JB10 twin-turbojet engine jetpack, which runs on kerosene or diesel, and has been approved by the US aviation regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

Also read: Vince Reffet who soared neck and neck with world's largest passenger jet won't fly again

Jetpack Aviation founder and chief executive David Mayman told BBC that the demand for the firm's training programme and tethered flights has been overwhelming and that the company was in "overcapacity" in terms of the number of people whom it can accommodate for jetpack training. Mayman's jetpacks are touted as "Segway in the Sky" and are intuitive, allowing the user to control speed and thrust with the right hand, and direction with the left. A computer screen attached to the jetpack provides information to the flyer about fuel level, engine, exhaust gas temperatures and battery status. Mayman said that the members of the general public would be well-placed to absorb jetpack training as experienced aviators have to "unlearn a bunch of things".               

Mayman's company has so far trained 80 people and had been approached by promoters for setting up experience operations in countries, including Japan and Australia. The cost of two days of training is $4,950. 

Jetpack racing leagues 

Both the jetpack service providers said that they are planning to start jetpack racing leagues. These would take place over water, owing to safety reasons.

Vince Reffet flies alongside an Emirates Airbus A380

Gravity Industries had proposed to hold the first jetpack race in 2020. It, however, had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The company's founder Richard Browning said that members of the public would be trained to compete in these events. 

Costs and other issues

Mayman informed that running a jetpack training programme is expensive, considering the costly technology involved. He, however, believes that jetpacks would become affordable in the long run following technological advances. According to a trends expert quoted by BBC, mass production of recreational jetpacks may not happen immediately, but may now be used by wealthy adventurers in places like Dubai, where insurance companies would not play spoilsport. 

Also read: After drones, here comes the first autonomous commercial cargo flight

There are a few other issues too associated with the use of jetpacks, ranging from health and environmental concerns to regulatory and air traffic control concerns. There is also the danger of a user losing control of a jetpack. Mayman, however, assured that for the average person of average size and health, jetpacks are safe to use. 

Retired US helicopter pilot Leigh Coates can hardly wait for the jetpack races to start. She had flown with Jetpack Aviation in 2018, becoming the first woman to use the company's jetpack. The next year, she flew Gravity's jetpack untethered, and was the first woman to do so. The jetpack races may be the precursor to the widespread introduction of jetpacks in the near future.