The history of jet suits was discussed by AAT partner and patent attorney Alex Bone in his article last year. More recently, in August 2019, Frenchman Franky Zapata hit the headlines by becoming the first person to fly across the English Channel on a jet-powered hoverboard, the Flyboard Air, developed by Zapata’s company. This followed an unsuccessful attempt the previous month, in which he had fallen into the sea while trying to touch down on a landing platform to refuel.
I was reminded of this recently as I watched the excellent documentary “Own the Sky” (available on BBC iPlayer), which follows Australian entrepreneur and adventurer David Mayman as he pursues his childhood dream of being able to fly, by attempting to develop a viable jet pack.
The documentary brings home some of realities of the project: the difficulties and dangers of flying such devices, and the determination (and borderline obsession) exhibited by Mayman in risking his money, personal safety, relationships and possibly sanity, to try to develop a working product over a period of several decades.
Despite enlisting the tuition skills of legendary pilot Bill Suitor, who was the man flying the Bell Rocket Belt at the 1984 Olympics opening ceremony, it’s clear that operating such a device isn’t always easy. One moment that sticks in the mind is Mayman, still wearing a hospital gown following emergency admission for severe burns to his leg, hopping out of a car at the test site, ready to continue flying.
I’m not sure the idea of strapping on some rocket engines and hydrogen peroxide fuel tanks is ever likely to appeal to the average commuter, especially those needing to arrive at an important meeting without singed hair and melted shoes. But will we ever see a form of this technology developed into a practical and affordable personal transportation device? There are undoubtedly many other inventors currently working away in pursuit of this goal, so perhaps time will tell.