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The Jetpack: An Idea Whose Time Has Never Come, but Won't Go Away

The decades-old, never-realized dream of personal jetpacks is being kept alive by a small number of entrepreneurs, inventors, and others, with two inventors planning to test them in free flight this year while a Silicon Valley firm has taken in deposits from four prospective buyers. "When you tell someone that you are going to build a jetpack, you get strange looks," says Gerard Martowlis, an environmental engineer in Rahway, N.J., who has been building a jetpack in his basement based on the one made in 1969 by inventor Nelson Tyler, who in turn was inspired by the Bell Aerosystems design rejected by the U.S. military in the 1960s. Stuart Ross, an inventor who is planning to test his jetpack in untethered flight for the first time this year, is one of the many jetpack enthusiasts who were inspired by Bill Suitor, a former Bell test pilot who flew Nelson Tyler's jetpack during the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Suitor says he has taken more than 1,200 jetpack flights since the 1960s, including flights at the Super Bowl and in the James Bond movie "Thunderball." Today, he flies under contract with Silicon Valley-based thunderbolt Aerosystems, whose founder, Nino Amarena, would like to be "the Henry Ford of rocketeers."

April 15, 2009

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