- For other meanings see Jetpack (disambiguation).
- The Martin Jetpack, despite its name, has no jets or rockets, but is a small helicopter, and is discussed as such.
Jet pack, rocket belt, rocket pack, and similar names, are various types of device, usually worn on the back, that use jets of escaping gases to allow the user to fly.
The concept of these devices emerged from science fiction in the 1920s and popularised in the 1960s as the technology became a reality. Currently the only practical uses of the jet pack has been Extra-vehicular activity for astronauts and despite decades of advancement in the technology, the challenges of the Earth's atmosphere and Earth's gravity and the human body (not being suited to this type of flight) remain an obstacle to its potential use in the military and as a means of personal transport.
The German Flightpack of World War II
During World War II
, Germany made late-war experiments of strapping two wearable shortened Schmidt pulse jet
tubes of low thrust to the body of a pilot. The working principle was the same as the Schmidt-Argus pulse jet that powered the Fieseler Fi 103
flying bomb whereas the size was much smaller.
The device was called "Himmelstürmer" (Skystormer) and operated as follows: when the flier ignited both engines simultaneously the tubes began to pulse modulate. The angled rear tube strapped to the flier's back provided both lift and forward thrust while the chest mounted deflector tube of lower thrust maintained a constant upward thrust. This lifted the flier up and forward. By opening the throttle to the rear tube, calculated "jumps" could be made of up to 60 meter (180 ft) at low altitude (under 50 ft, 15 m). The tubes consumed very little fuel but not much could be carried either.
The intended use for this device was for German engineer units to cross minefields, barbed wire obstacles, and bridgeless waters. The device was never intended for troop use, despite a crude depiction of it in that role in the comic book and film The Rocketeer (which was a prop bearing no resemblance to the real device).
At the end of the war this device was handed over to Bell which tested it on a tether out of fear of harm as no test flier was willing to risk his life with the German machine. What became of the device is not known.
The fictional device used by The Rocketeer was a rocket pack that was technically unique (at least in the film adaptation) because it was designed to remain cool. The Himmelstürmer, by comparison, never operated long enough to get extremely hot and both tubes were angled away from the body of the flier. In operation the thrust difference between pulse tubes acted as a push/pull/lift system. Flight time for jumps was in seconds with no lengthy descent time as altitude was minimal. As soon as the throttle was disengaged the device was shut off, a very simple operation and no report of any casualties.
The Jump Belt (mostly compressed gas powered)
In 1958 Garry Burdett
and Alexander Bohr
, engineers of Thiokol
Corporation created the "Jump Belt", which they named Project Grasshopper
. Thrust was created by high-pressure compressed nitrogen
. On the "belt" were fixed two small nozzles, directed vertically downward. The wearer of the "belt" could open a valve, letting out from the nitrogen gas cylinder
through the nozzles, in this case it was tossed upward to the height to 7 meters. After leaning forward, it was possible with the aid of the "jump belt's" thrust to run at 45 to 50 km/h. Then Burdett and Bohr tested a hydrogen peroxide
powered version. The "jump belt" was demonstrated by a serviceman in action, but there was no financing, and the matter again did not go to further tests.
The small size of the canisters is likely the reason why the name usage "-belt" rather than "-pack" became customary in the USA.
In 1959 Aerojet General Corporation
won a U.S. Army contract to make a jetpack or rocketpack. At the start of 1960 Richard Peoples
made his first tethered flight with his Aeropack.
In 1960, Bell Rocketbelt was presented to the public. The jet of gas was provided by a hydrogen peroxide powered rocket but the jet can also be provided by a turbojet engine, a ducted fan, or other kinds of rockets powered by solid fuel, liquid fuel or compressed gas (usually nitrogen).
But American servicemen did not lose interest in this type of flight vehicle. Control of transport studies of the U.S. Army Transportation Research Command, TRECOM
) assumed that personal jet apparatuses could find the most diverse uses: for reconnaissance
, crossing rivers, amphibious landing, access to steep mountain slopes, overcoming minefields
, tactical manoeuvring, etc. The concept was named Small Rocket Lift Device
Within the framework of this concept the administration in 1959 concluded with the company Aerojet General a big contract to research on the possibility of designing an SRLD, suitable for army purposes. Aerojet came to the conclusion that the version with the engine running on hydrogen peroxide was most suitable. However, it soon became known to the military that engineer Wendell Moore of the company Bell Aerosystems had for several years been carrying out experiments to make a personal jet device. After becoming acquainted with his work, servicemen during August 1960 decided to send an order for Bell Aerosystems to develop an SLRD. Wendell Moore was appointed as the chief project engineer.
Hydrogen peroxide powered rocketpacks
A hydrogen peroxide
-powered motor is based on the decomposition reaction of hydrogen peroxide. Nearly pure (90% in the Bell Rocket Belt) hydrogen peroxide is used. Pure hydrogen peroxide is relatively stable, but in contact with the catalyst
(for example, silver
) it decomposes into a mixture of superheated steam
in less than 1/10 millisecond
increasing in volume 5000 times: 2 H2
= 2 H2
O + O2
. The reaction is exothermic, i.e. with liberation of much heat (about 2500 kJ/kg), forming in this case a steam-gas mixture at 740 °C. This hot gas is used exclusively as the reaction mass
and is directly led to one or more jet nozzles.
The great disadvantage is the limited operating time. The jet of steam and oxygen can provide significant thrust from fairly lightweight rockets, but the jet has a reasonably low exhaust velocity and hence a poor specific impulse. A man's carrying capacity before take-off sets the upper bound on weight of propellant that can be used, and so currently such rocket belts can only fly for about 30 seconds.
A more conventional bipropellant could more than double the specific impulse, however, with peroxide while the exhaust is very hot it is much cooler than other propellants that could be used and this greatly reduces the risk of a fire and injury.
In contrast to, for example, turbojet engines which mainly expel atmospheric air to produce thrust, rocket packs are far simpler to build than devices using turbojets. The classical rocket pack of the construction of Wendell Moore can be prepared in workshop conditions but needs good engineering training and a high level of tool-making craftsmanship.
The main faults of this type of rocket pack are:
- Short duration of flight (to 30 seconds).
- The reasonably high expense of the peroxide propellant.
- The danger of flying below minimum parachute altitude, and hence without any safety equipment.
- The sheer difficulty of manually flying such a device.
These circumstances limit the sphere of the application of rocket packs to very spectacular public demonstration flights (stunts). Rocket pack flights typically seize the attention of spectators and enjoy great success. For example, a flight was arranged in the course of the opening ceremony of the summer Olympic Games 1984 in Los Angeles, USA
Bell Textron Rocket Belt
This is the oldest known type of jetpack or rocketpack.
One Bell Rocket Belt is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's, National Air and Space Museum's annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles Airport.
RB-2000 Rocket Belt
This was a successor to the Bell Rocket Belt. See Bell Rocket Belt#RB2000 Rocket Belt
The Bell Pogo was a small rocket-powered platform that 2 people could ride on. Its design used features from the Bell Rocket Belt.
Powerhouse Productions Rocketbelt
More commonly known as "The Rocketman", Powerhouse Productions, owned and operated by Kinnie Gibson, is the first company to manufacture the 30 second flying Rocketbelt and performed Rocketbelt performances exclusively since 1983, including the 1984 Summer Olympics
, Carnival in Rio de Janerio, Super Bowls, the Rose Parade
and Daytona 500
, Michael Jackson
. Powerhouse Rocketbelt pilots include Kinnie Gibson, Eric Scott and Dan Schlund
Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana (TAM)
The Tecaeromex Rocket Belt is or was made by Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana
, which is said to be made by the only company in the world that offers a flying and tested rocket belt package, featured in the March 2006 issue of Popular Science
magazine and many TV programs around the world like the Discovery Channel
, the BBC
, TV Azteca
, The Science Channel
, The History Channel
. Its maker claims that four of his rocketpacks are flying now; his first tethered flights were on 22 September 2005. See http://www.tecaeromex.com/ingles/RB-i.htm for a description and a big image. It runs on hydrogen peroxide
. It sells for USA $125,000 including a training course in using it.
On Aug. 11, 2006 Isabel Lozano was the first woman in the world to fly tethered in a rocket belt in front of millions of TV spectators; she flew with a special rocket belt built by TAM.
made 3 types of jetpacks. They do not have wings:
('@' means "estimated")
||Max flight time
||Max pilot weight
|Jet pack H202
||Not for sale |
|Jet pack H202-Z
||Not for sale |
|Jet pack T-73
||@ 9 minutes
||@ c. 11 miles
||@ 83 mph
||T-73 jet motor
||$200,000 incl. training |
A Jet Pack H202 was flown for 34 seconds in Central Park on the 9 April 2007 episode of the Today Show, and sold for $150,000. But http://www.jetpackinternational.com/equip.html says (as at 30 July 2008) that their H202 jetpacks are for demonstration only, not for sale.
Packs with the turbojet
engine work on the traditional kerosene
. They have higher efficiency
, greater height and a duration of flight of many minutes, but they are complex in construction and very expensive. Only one working model of this pack was made; it underwent flight tests in the 1960s and at present it no longer flies.
Bell Jet Flying Belt
In 1965 Bell Aerosystems concluded a new contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) to develop a jet pack with a turbojet engine. This project was called the "Jet Flying Belt", or simply the "Jet Belt". Wendell Moore and John K. Hulbert, a specialist in gas turbines
, worked to design a new turbojet pack. Williams Research Corporation (now Williams International
) in Walled Lake, Michigan
, designed and built a new turbojet engine to Bell's specifications in 1969. It was called the WR19, with a rated thrust of 195 kgf
) and weighing 31 kg.
The first free flight of the "Jet Belt" took place on 7 April 1969 at the Niagara Falls Municipal Airport. Pilot Robert Courter flew about 100 meters in a circle at an altitude of 7 meters, reaching a speed of 45 km/h. The following flights were longer, up to 5 minutes. Theoretically, this new pack could fly for 25 minutes and go up to 135 km/h.
In spite of successful tests, the U.S. Army lost interest. The pack was complex to maintain and too heavy. Landing with its weight on his back was hazardous to the pilot, and catastrophic loss of a turbine blade could have been lethal.
Thus, the "Bell Jet Flying Belt" remained an experimental model. On 29 May 1969, Wendell Moore died of complications from a heart attack he had suffered six months earlier, and work on the turbojet pack was ended. Bell sold the sole version of the "Bell pack", together with the patents and the technical documentation, to Williams Research Corporation. This pack is now in the Williams International company museum.
A version of this engine went on to power the later US Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Special features of the turbojet pack
The "Jet Belt" used a small turbofan
engine, which was mounted vertically, with its air intake downward (1). Intake air was divided into two flows. One flow went into the combustion chamber, the other flow bypassed the engine, then mixed with the hot turbine gases, cooling them and protecting the pilot from the high temperature. In the upper part of the engine the exhaust was divided and entered two pipes, which led to jet nozzles (2). The construction of the nozzles made it possible to move the jet to any side. Kerosene
fuel was in tanks (33) beside the engine. Control of the turbojet pack was similar the rocket pack, but the pilot could not tilt the entire engine. Maneuvering was by deflecting the controlled nozzles. By inclining levers, the pilot could move the jets of both nozzles forward, back, or sideways. The pilot rotated left/right by the turning the left handle. The right handle governed the engine thrust. The jet engine was started with the aid of a powder cartridge. While testing this starter, a mobile starter on a special cart was used. There were instruments to control the power of the engine, and a portable radio to connect and transmit telemetry data to ground-based engineers. On top of the pack was a standard auxiliary landing parachute (4); it was effective only when opened higher than 20 meters. This engine went on to become the basis for the early cruise missile propulsion unit.
Rocket packs can be useful in outer space, where much less thrust is needed, because the weightlessness of space removes the need to continually fight against gravity.
Rocket packs were tested during mission STS-64. Mission Specialists Carl Meade and Mark Lee tested the SAFER Rocket Pack while Hammond remained inside the Orbiter.
NASA's Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) (compressed gas powered)
In the 1980s, NASA
demonstrated the Manned Maneuvering Unit
(MMU), a rocket pack that allowed an astronaut
to function as his/her own spacecraft, but the system was retired before the decade was gone. The MMU is the only jetpack of practical importance. Its operational area is outside a space station
, where an astronaut can limitedly move independently. The MMU's propulsion was produced by high-pressure nitrogen gas discharged through nozzles (which the MMU has 24 of). The MMU was used since 1984 in three Space Shuttle
missions (STS-41-B, STS-41-C and STS-51-A).
Recently, NASA has introduced the SAFER
, a smaller simpler version of the MMU meant to be used in case of accidental separation from spacecraft or station. With only small amounts of thrust
needed, safety and temperature are much more manageable than in Earth gravity in the atmosphere.
Winged jet and rocket packs
Jetpacks and rocketpacks would likely have much better flight time on a tankful of fuel if they had wings. There have been occasional real cases of a man gliding horizontally long distances with his body horizontal and no flying aid except a pair of rigid airplane-type wings strapped directly to his body; see also wingsuits.
Visa Parviainen's jet-assisted wingsuit
On 25 October 2005 in Lahti
, Visa Parviainen
jumped from a hot air balloon
in a wingsuit
with two small turbojet jet engines
attached to his feet. The turbojets provided approximately 16 kgf
, 35 lbf
) of thrust each and ran on kerosene
(JET A-1) fuel. Visa apparently achieved approximately 30 seconds of horizontal flight with no noticeable loss of altitude.
Yves Rossy's jetpack
Swiss ex-military and commercial pilot Yves Rossy
developed and built a winged pack with rigid aeroplane-type carbon-fiber
wings spanning about and four small kerosene
-burning jet engines
underneath; these engines are large versions of a type designed for model aeroplanes
. He wears a heat-resistant suit similar to that of a firefighter
or racing driver
to protect him from the hot jet exhaust
Rossy claims to be "the first person to gain altitude and maintain a stable horizontal flight thanks to aerodynamic carbon foldable wings," which are folded by hinges at the midpoint of each wing. After being lifted by a Pilatus Porter plane piloted by Jean-Marc Colomb, he jumps out with his wings folded, unfolds them while in free-fall, flies horizontally for several minutes, then lands using a parachute. He achieves true controlled flight using his body and a hand throttle to maneuver.
Rossy's jetpack was exhibited on 18 April 2008 at the opening day of the 35th Exhibition of Inventions at Geneva. Rossy and his sponsors spent over $190,000 to build the device.
His first successful trial was on 24 June 2004
. Rossy has made more than 30 powered flights since. In November 2006 he flew with a later version of his jetpack.
On May 14, 2008 he made a successful 6-minute flight from the town of Bex near Lake Geneva. He exited a Pilatus Porter at 7,500 feet with his jetpack. It was the first public demonstration before the world's press. He made effortless loops from one side of the Rhone valley to the other and rose 2,600 feet.
It has been claimed that the military has been impressed and asked for prototypes for the powered wings, and that Rossy kindly refused the request and stated it is only for aviation enthusiasm purposes.
On 26 September 2008, Yves successfully flew across the English Channel from Calais, France to Dover, England in under 10 minutes (9 minutes 7 seconds). His speed reached 186 mph during the crossing, and was at 125 mph when he deployed the parachute. Video of the flight has been posted on the World-Wide Web.
Links to images of Rossy and his jetpack
- ;On the ground:
According to the USA Government, real jetpacks have little practical value due to the limitations of current technology. The United States military
, which conducted most jet pack research, has declared that helicopters
are far more practical. Many others have worked on devising a functional jet pack, but with limited success.
In recent years the rocket pack has become popular among enthusiasts, and some have built one for themselves. The pack's basic construction is rather simple, but its flying capability depends on two key parts: the gas generator, and the thrust control valve. The rocket packs being built today are largely based on the research and inventions of Wendell Moore at Bell Aerospace.
One of the largest stumbling blocks that would-be rocket pack builders have faced is the difficulty of obtaining concentrated hydrogen peroxide, which is no longer produced by very many chemical companies. The companies who produce high concentration hydrogen peroxide only sell to large corporations or governments, forcing some amateurs and professionals to make their own hydrogen peroxide distillation installations. Since 2005, more rocket packs are being built and tested out, since hydrogen peroxide has become more readily available.
Two high-profile jetpack projects are currently being operated:
- Jetpack International: see above.
- Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana: see above.
In popular culture
The concept of jet packs appeared in popular culture, particularly science fiction long before the technology became practical.
Perhaps the first appearance was in comic books. The 1928 cover of Amazing Stories featured a man flying with a jetpack.
Several science fiction novels from the 1950s featured jet packs.
But it was not until the "Bell Rocket Belt" in the 1960s that the jet pack reached the imagination of the mainstream. Bell's demonstration flights in the U.S. and other countries created significant public enthusiasm.
The manga character Astroboy, who first appeared in 1963 achieved flight through two jetpacks hidden in his legs which appeared from his feet when needed. Likewise Iron Man, a comic book character who had jetpacks built into his armour first appeared in the same year.
The Johnny Quest series of prime time cartoons had an episode or two with jet pack technology integrated into those episodes as a common future technology.
The character The Rocketeer first appeared in comic books in 1982 and the central theme of this character was the jet pack.
A rocket pack occurred famously on the opening of the summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. The pack was piloted by both Bill Suitor and Gordon Yaeger. Suitor was a legendary personality (in all calculation more than 1200 flights — more than in any other pilot to this day). Bill took off from platforms, flew above many spectators, who from the unexpected contingency covered their heads with their hands, and landed opposite the presidential platform, where Ronald Reagan sat. This flight was seen by 100,000 spectators on the platforms and about 2.5 billion television viewers.
A jet pack featured on Michael Jackson's "Dangerous World Tour" from 1992 where a stunt double flew a rocket jet at the end of the concerts.
While unrelated to the device, revival musician Dan J. Standiford went by the name Jetpack.
The 1965 James Bond film Thunderball
is one of the more famous appearances of the technology in film and widely captured the public imagination, as it showed an actual functioning jet pack and its potential usage in espionage, which was a popular theme during the cold war
. In the filming of Thunderball
, two packs were used. One was a non-functional prop: it can be seen on Sean Connery in the large-scale planning scenes. The second was a genuine Bell Rocket Belt
and it actually flew, piloted by Bell Company pilots Bill Suitor
and Gordon Yaeger
. The scenes with Sean Connery and the pack had to be shot twice, because the first time they photographed it his head was uncovered, and in the flying shots Bill Suitor flatly refused to take off without a crash helmet. In the film's sound track
the real shrill roar of the rocket pack's engine was replaced with the hiss of a fire extinguisher
"to seem more realistic".
In Fahrenheit 451 (1966 film), a jet-pack-equipped search squad is hunting the main protagonist.
In 1991 Disney produced a film based on the Rocketeer character.
The character Buzz Lightyear, first appearing in Toy Story had a jetpack or rocket-pack, which was non-functional in the two Toy Story movies, but functional in follow-up stories.
In the 2002 film Minority Report and its game, the pre-crime cops routinely use jet-packs.
The Iron Man (film) based on the Iron Man character was released and featured scenes in which the hero used his built-in jet-pack.
In 1965, the same year as the film Thunderball
, an early episode of Lost in Space
featured a stunt flyer (who had stood in for actor Guy Williams) in a flight through an 'alien' canyon-area, using the hydrogen-peroxide jet belt.
The 1976 Saturday morning live-action television series Ark II featured a jet pack called a "Jet Jumper".
Star Wars character Boba Fett first appeared in the Star Wars Christmas Special television segment in 1978 featuring his trademark jet and rocket pack. Following his appearance the next year in The Empire Strikes Back, he became one of the most popular villains in the series.
The television series Transformers (1984) and M.A.S.K. (1985) began to show characters regularly using jetpacks and rocketpacks.
During the 2002 Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Seeing Red", Warren Mears escapes from Buffy using a jetpack; Andrew Wells reveals he too has a jetpack, but when he tries to escape, he only knocks himself out on the overhanging roof above him.
Also in 2002 Disney's Kim Possible, Kim Possible and her partner Ron Stoppable began to use winged jetpacks which were hidden in backpacks.
The Batman also includes cameo appearances of jetpacks.
In toys and videogames
In the 1980s, the rocket pack began to emerge in video games. Early games like Asteroids
featured jet propulsion, but it was not until the graphics could show proper human or robot characters that jet packs appeared.
- Part of the original 1982 release of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline included a toy called Jet Mobile Propulsion Unit (JUMP). In was repackaged in 1983 with Grand Slam.
- Jetpac released in 1983 for the ZX Spectrum featured a spaceman with a jet pack.
- Space Harrier and Thexder (1985) both featured robot equipped with jet packs.
- JJ (1987) featured jetpacks on most levels.
- Rocket Ranger, (1988) featured a rocketman as part of the central character.
- The 1990 Nintendo video game Pilotwings was a Super Nintendo Entertainment System flight simulator game which notably featured a rocket belt as one of the challenges. The game was subsequently re-released on the Nintendo 64.
- The computer game named Jetpack was released in 1993, with the central character of the platform game using a jetpack to get around.
- Characters in the multiplayer strategy Worms series of games have had this playing option since 1995.
- Super Bomberman 4 in 1996 was the first time the Nintendo character Bomberman appeared with a jetpack. He appeared in subsequent release of Bomberman Hero in 1998.
- Duke Nukem 3D released in 1996 featured a jet pack with limited flight time.
The jetpack also appears in later computer games like Starsiege: Tribes, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, where Global Defense Initiative has infantry which are equipped with jetpacks.
In the popular 2005 online game Club Penguin, in one of the games the player flies a jetpack.
Home-made rocket packs using plans from the Internet
investigates the urban legend
of an affordable jetpack or rocketpack that can be built from plans purchased off the Internet
. Extensive modifications were made by the MythBusters team due to the vagueries in the plans, and the infeasible engine mounting system specified. The jetpack produced by the MythBusters had two ducted fans
powered by ultralight
-type engines. They found it was not powerful enough to lift a person off the ground, and was expensive to build. The plans specified a Rotax 503 ultralight
engine, but they intended to use the more powerful and lighter Rotax 583 engine before a similar, lighter unnamed engine was substituted.
America's only "private rocketeer", Gerard Martowlis, built a fully operational rocket pack. Like all flying packs, his is extraordinarily difficult and extremely dangerous to fly, taking many hours to learn and practice. He performed his recent test flights using a safety tether system in case he lost control. A consequence of the short flight time of any peroxide-based pack is that the entire flight is below the minimum parachute altitude. Accordingly, any loss of control or failure of the pack is most likely fatal. The training also incurs expensive fuel costs.