Day 6

The Jetpack just got one big blast closer to reality

Earlier this month, Jetpack Aviation began testing its newest jetpack model. It can take off vertically up to 4.5 kilometres and fly 100 kilometres an hour. It's billed as a major advance - the kind we've been promised for years. But Popular Science writer Kelsey Atherton says you shouldn't start planning your jetpack commute just yet.
JetPack Aviation CEO and test pilot David Mayman takes one of the companies latest models for a ride. (JetPack Aviation)
Driverless cars, virtual reality headsets, supercomputers for phones … sometimes if feels like we're living in an Epcot Center version of the future. Case in point, earlier this month a company called JetPack Aviation successfully demoed their latest jetpack project.

Yes, that's right, an actual, working jetpack. And as you can see in this video, it's just about everything we hoped it would be.

But as Popular Science aviation writer Kelsey Atherton tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury, we shouldn't start planning our jetpack commute any time soon.

"It was neat, if not spectacular," he says. "But it's a technology that has always seemed five or ten years away and unfortunately, I think it's still five or ten years away."


The Future of yesterday


JetPack Aviation CEO and test pilot David Mayman (that's Mayman in the video) thinks otherwise.

​He says his company offers the world's only true jetpack, defining it as a jet turbine-powered backpack capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Atherton agrees but says the competition is heating up. 

"JetPack Aviation has a lock on jets that are most like jets but there are a couple other personal flying machines that you either strap to your back or strap to yourself," he says.

Martin Jetpack is a company out of New Zealand. Their model is less like a backpack and more like a robotic, flying exoskeleton.

"Martin is a really big jetpack with ducted fans that it uses to carry a person," Atherton says. He also points out that Martin's model has an unmanned pilot mode so it can be controlled remotely.

Michael Read, Director of Flight Operations from New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft Company, flies on a Martin Jetpack over a water park in Shenzhen, China. (VCG / Getty Images)

The third big player is also the newest. Zapata Aerospace is working on a flyboard, which Atherton describes as "essentially a platform - with rotors in it - that the pilot stands on top of. It's sort of like the pilot is flying on a drone."

Flying at a cost


​JetPack Aviation has been working on a fully functional jetpack for more than 40 years. The company is so confident, it plans to make its jetpacks commercially available by 2019. It's even working on an electric model.

Martin Jetpack is also racing to the market. It's first commercial product was supposed to roll out this year but delays have pushed its release into 2017.

"That there's competition is really exciting. That there seems to be some need or some market for it makes it feel like it's more than a novelty," says Atherton, but he isn't allowing himself to get too worked up until there's an actual production model.

James Bond and Boba Fett sport two of pop cultures most famous jetpacks. (MGM / Lucasfilm Ltd. )

When that day comes, the jetpacks of today won't be exactly like the jetpacks of James Bond or Boba Fett. Yes, they will soar well above the clouds and some will fly at 100 km/hour, but their flight time will be capped around ten minutes and the cost of a new jetpack will rival a fully loaded Bentley convertible.

So if jetpacks do become available, who will buy them?

Jetpacks to the rescue


​Atherton says jetpacks could fill a niche market.

"I don't think we'll see everyday commuters with jetpacks. I think what we're going to see is first responders," says Atherton, who also covers military stories for Popular Science.  "Specifically, first responders going to a crisis in a very tall building."

Last year, Dubai reached an agreement with Martin Aircraft Company to buy 20 jetpacks. Considering the fact that Dubai is home to the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, jetpacks could be the fastest way to get rescuers up to a crisis or to get victims away from danger.

Atherton also says they could be useful for search and rescue operations where helicopters can't or won't fly. But as for the jetpack culture? He says probably not.  

"We could see a jetpack culture within in our lifetime but I would expect to see it at places like Burning Man before I would expect to see people flying from skyscraper to skyscraper".