Why We Don’t Have Jetpacks…Yet
Wondering where your jetpack is? You’re not alone.
It has long been believed that dreams of flight are a personal representation of power that signifies you are capable of doing anything. It’s no coincidence that people dream so often of having the ability to fly. If you are in a position of wealth and power, however, you may be able to make that dream reality with your own personal aerial vehicle, aka a jetpack.
From Buck Rogers’s degravity belt to George Jetson’s flying suit, as long as humans have been dreaming of ways to make flight possible, we have been imagining a future in which we zip around via jetpacks. Prolific writer and biochemist Isaac Asimov believed by the turn of the 21st Century we would all be traveling via jetpack, even going so far as to claim they’d be as common as travel by bicycle.
Now that we are living in the 21st Century, it’s obvious we aren’t commuting via the skyways. This has left many people wondering how much longer we’ll have to wait before we each have the ability to control our own sky travels.
To understand why we aren’t able to travel by jetpack yet and how far into the future such travel may be, we first need to understand the technology and why previous attempts at personal flight have failed.
The History of the Jetpack
The history of the jetpack can be traced back to 1919, when a German rocket scientist worked on inventing a jet powered vest for the US Army. This would be the first of many attempts to build a jetpack, the vast majority of which were halted due to a lack of funding.
Over the following decades, many inventors would injure themselves attempting to create a functional jetpack.
In 1961, Wendell Moore’s Bell Rocket Belt caused the engineer to break his kneecap after plunging 2.5 meters. When you consider that his rocket was powered by nitrogen gas that was converted into a steam explosion, a broken kneecap doesn’t sound all that bad.
Also in 1961, during the Bell Rocket Belt’s first public display, pilot Harold “Hal” Graham landed on his head after falling 6.7 meters, leading to his premature retirement.
Next to be injured was stunt pilot Kinnie Gibson, whose knee was smashed, leading to a lawsuit that spelled the end for the 90% oxygen that would be necessary to power a jetpack.
Today there are water-propelled hydrolift devices that function similarly to a jetpack but is run on hydrogen peroxide instead of rocket fuel. Google X considered developing a jetpack but ultimately decided against it after determining how impractical it would be.
Another company, Jetpack Aviation, has developed personal vehicles that are capable of vertical landings and takeoffs. Their JB10 can have you in the air for as many as four minutes. They plan to release an electric version of their vehicle this year. Whether or not it will work still remains to be seen.
Why We Don’t Have Jetpacks…Yet
Despite predictions that we’d all have jetpacks by now, there’s a very good reason we don’t. A couple of them, actually: gravity and rocket engines.
When it comes to the jetpack, the issue is not so much that what goes up must come down as it is how long we can stay in the air. This all comes down to Newton’s law of mechanics, which states that to get off the ground you’ll need to use enough force to cancel out the gravity that is holding you to the earth. While this is clearly possible in a large aircraft that can hold plenty of fuel, it’s simply not possible with something the size of a jetpack.
Perhaps in the future when we’ve advanced to the point that we can use alternate fuel sources that weigh less, this will change.
When we imagine jetpacks, we’re picturing a specific vision of a rocketeer in flight—one with the rocket’s engine strapped to his back. Now that you understand how much fuel it would take to counteract gravity and leave the earth, imagine how hot the flame blasting out of that rocket jet would be. It would be like holding a blowtorch to your legs, which you wouldn’t have for long if you remained in flight. In other words, the vision we have for what traveling by jetpack could look like is not ever going to be our reality.
But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
What Jetpacks Might Look Like in the Future
This article is Part One in a two-part series. Next week on Rob Raskin’s Millionaire Survivalist we’ll be taking a look at some more realistic jetpack designs. Want to know where you can buy your own jetpack and how much it’ll set you back? We’re going to be discussing that, too, so don’t miss it!
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