To gaze upon the sky and watch majestic birds cut through the wind is both a humbling and a frustrating experience. Humbling because it makes our species realize that we were put on this earth to stand on two heavy pillars locked forever to the dirt, and frustrating because we want what we can’t have and will do everything in our power to obtain it.
Enter the jetpack.
For decades, the jetpack has been one of the iconic symbols of the future that was always just around the corner. Now, finally, it is on the way to becoming a real, commercial thing—though probably not for you.
The Verge published what is probably the definitive history of humanity’s long-running obsession with jetpacks three years ago. But here are a few highlights:
Buck Rogers introduced Americans to the idea of a man with a rocket strapped to his back in the 1920s with comic books. It took a few decades of creative massaging for Buck to morph into a literal “Rocket Man” named Jeff King—star of the 12-part series “King of the Rocket Men”.
The 1960s were when America’s armed forces, both the Navy and the Army, actually started playing with the idea of propelling troops across the battlefield, but it wasn’t until 1965 when the famous British spy James Bond put the hilariously impractical contraption on the silver screen.
NASA made scientific use of the rocket backpack in the 1980s in several space missions. And the Simpsons made fun of it in the 90s, only for Isabel Lozano to became the first woman to fly with a jetpack one decade later.
Which finally brings us to the Martin Aircraft Company, based in New Zealand. Its founder, Glenn Martin, is a tinker-in-the-garage inventor who has been prototyping jetpacks for over two decades. (His wife Vanessa was its plucky first test pilot.) Its latest model, scheduled to go on sale in 2016, is for the military and emergency services. It should—on paper—be able to fly for half an hour at a speed of 46 miles (74 km) per hour over a distance of 20 miles, all for the low, low price of about US$200,000.
Martin intends to raise up to A$25 million (US$21.5 million) when it lists on the Australian stock exchange in December. It’ll need that money to fulfill a recent contract—size not mentioned—with a US company, Avwatch, to develop technology for various US government agencies.
The company says it “is targeting a sales price of under US$150,000 for the recreational version of the aircraft but this may take some years to achieve.” Oh well. After all the time we’ve been waiting, a few more years probably won’t make a difference.