For 27 years Glenn Martin, 48, of Christchurch, New Zealand, has dreamed of lifting into the air on ducted fans of his own design. With the help of his family, it has come true: The Martin Jetpack flew publicly at Oshkosh on July 29. Martin’s 16-year-old son Harrison lifted off and stayed aloft for 40 seconds in front of nearly 2,000 spectators.
Trained as a biochemist, his true passion lay not in the laboratory but in his garage. Rocket packs, he reasoned, run out of fuel in 26 seconds are can be dangerous. “Rocket pack pilots retire when they break their legs,” he said.
So he tinkered, built his own rotor blades and hub for the ducted fans, and designed his own engine with advice from the outboard motor industry. Universities in New Zealand checked his aerodynamic calculations. He was able to work on it full time, when not taking care of his children, while his wife, Vanessa, worked as a nurse.
With five gallons of premium-grade auto gas he can fly (so far at only six feet) for 30 minutes at 63 mph. He could go faster, but not if he wants it to qualify for ultralight aircraft rules. Most of the flight tests have been conducted in calm air.
Vanessa became his test pilot, followed by his son Harrison. He was sworn to secrecy and couldn’t tell his friends until this year that he had flown around his family garage like Batman, or maybe Superman. Tests were expanded to an area the size of a tennis court, always with two helpers running alongside, hands close to two handles installed in case the 250-pound machine needed to be steadied. Vanessa offered the Oshkosh flight to her son as a gift.
It lands on three legs, tripod style. The pilot does not have to bear the weight of the carbon fiber vehicle. A control stick in the pilot’s left hand controls pitch forward and backward, as well as roll left and right. In the right hand is the throttle and yaw control. Air blasts downward from the single set of rotor blades at 200 mph.
“You put on this heavy, hot machine. It roars, she bites [into the air] when you put on the throttle and you come off the ground. Suddenly you’re as light as the air and you’re floating forward. It’s a very exhilarating experience,” said Vanessa.
You can buy the Martin Jetpack for $100,000 when deliveries begin as early as mid-2009; $10,000 reserves your production position.
Watch two videos of the Martin Jetpack in action.