I wondered if I had made the right decision when I flew uncontrollably towards the side of a mountain ridge with an experimental jetpack strapped to my back. I was speeding. The noise was too loud. I felt like I was being cooked when the jet engines roared behind me. It wasn't like I had much choice but to stay in the moment when I was about to pass out. Either it stayed awake or it crashed and burned.
I had a jetpack on my back. The VTOL device is powered by two jet engines that can produce nearly 400 pounds of thrust, with an operating ceiling of 15,000 feet, and a maximum speed of 120 mph. It will last for 20 minutes with a full tank. Hopefully, you didn't fly too high when the engine shuts down.
Mayman got the idea to build a jetpack when he was a kid. When he considered the birth of JetPack Aviation, he created the JB9 and flew it around the Statue of Liberty.
He created newer and more refined versions of the jetpack and the Speeder, a VTOL that looks like a cross between a snowmobile and a flying DeLorean. Mayman described it to me as a flying motorcycle, and he believes it will be the foundation for the future of urban travel.
Mayman told me that they will play a big role in urban air mobility. We want to put the flight control systems we built for the Speeder in an electric aircraft to allow you to fly from one part of the city to another.
I decided to check out the JB10 because the Speeder is still in its development stages. The request was partly for work, partly out of curiosity, and partly because it would be fulfilling the dreams of my 10-year-old self who watched Arnold Schwarzenegger jet around a snowy Minneapolis in "Jingle All the Way" every Christmas.
I was invited to join a training session that Mayman held for paying students. With a starting price of $5,000, people can take part in a two-day session to learn how to fly theJB10 while tethered to a cable, which performs the double duty of supporting the jetpack as the student trains, while also preventing them from hurtingling uncontrollably to their deaths.
Once someone accumulates at least 50 tethered training flights, they are ready to fly on their own. The promise of unfettered honest-to-god jet packing is offered by untethered flights. As long as there is gas in the tank, you can take to the skies and soar with the birds. That is all you will have in common with that myth.
What do you think about me? I wanted to just survive the day and not think about anything else.
There is an outdoor concrete slab the size of a basketball court, several trailers with bathrooms, a resting area, and a workshop space to tinker with the jetpack at JetPack Aviation. All of it was hidden on a mountain ridge. Sean Ray, the director of training for the company, was going to teach me how to operate the JB10 when I arrived. Two other students who paid to take part in a training session that promised multiple opportunities to take part in tethered flights with the jetpack joined me.
Kam, a 66-year-old man from Iowa, told me that he wanted to do this since he saw "Lost in Space" as a child. He gestured to the sky and said he wanted to get his 50 flights in so he could go off tether.
When I met him, he said he was excited. He was excited. You don't know. I had trouble sleeping last night.
I haven't been able to sleep because of the jetpack that would explode while I was wearing it, but for me it was more about fear than excitement.
We wore protective clothing while we waited for Mayman. Two layers of socks, long underwear, shiny aluminized fire- resistant pants, a racing suit, long gloves, and a face- covering motorcycle helmet were included. I was sweating so much when I got the last piece of clothing on that I thought I was running a mile.
After a brief introduction, he boomed, "Let's start!"
According to Mayman, first, get strapped in by your trainer. The belts are tightened until your eyes water. The handles are stuck out from the back of the pack. The handle on the jetpack allows you to turn. You can fly if you control the thrust.
The tether is used to keep the jetpack in control, because each control is very sensitive. Mayman said that the tether would catch you and you'd spin around on the wire.
There's a silver metal switch on the right handle. It's time to fly.
It is at a very basic level. I realized that flying a sophisticated piece of machinery is more art than science after listening to Mayman speak.
Mayman said that the jetpack became almost a part of him. You will be able to adjust your body to what you need. It will become second nature eventually.
All of the training was done in 20 minutes. It was time for us to fly. Someone gave me the keys to a nuclear submarine and explained to me how it worked.
Kam was the one who got up first. I stood on the side of the basketball court watching as they strapped him into the car. He flipped the switch and the engines began to roar.
Ray gestured to Kam to increase thrust. The roar of the jetpack was dull at first, and then louder and louder until it rattled my skull. Kam lifted off the ground when it felt like it couldn't get any more cacophonous. The man was actually in the air.
Everyone applauded and high-fived when he finished. The next person to do it wasTanner. Both of them flew less than a minute. Enough time to hover in the air, turn and land a few times. It was my time.
I was told how much I would love it by my classmates. I felt like I was going to die inside. Ray helped put me in the jetpack. After flipping the switch, the jetpack roared to life behind me.
Ray asked me to ease up. The heat on the back of my legs got hotter as I did. The smell of burning was overpowering. I kept going despite everything in my body telling me to stop. As the jetpack lifted me up, the pressure on my feet began to ease.
I was still shocked even after watching the other two do it. I was doing it There was a jetpack in the air.
I must have been moving too fast. I tried to correct my position but ended up moving too far to the other side. For what felt like an eternity, we flew up, accidentally moved too far one way or the other, and then started over again. I initially felt joy, but it faded as I became frustrated.
I was tired as well. I adjusted the control with my hands most of the time. I thought I was in the ring with Mike Tyson. It took a lot of work to keep the jetpack up to date. I had to keep my body upright so the jetpack wouldn't hurt my legs. The flying of theJB10 was a challenge.
It happened at that time.
Ray pushed me around to different places. I felt like I was too far forward when he was shuffling. He fell to the ground after tripping. The jetpack rocketed me forward over Ray and towards the rocky hill next to the training facility.
I slowed down, but it felt like it was too late because I was moving forward with a jet engine in my hand. When I felt the life-saving tug of the tether whip me backwards like a dog, I thought I was going to die. I was able to stop myself from hanging by the tether after finding my footing.
Mayman ran to me to make sure I was okay, after I stood there dumbly for a moment. I agreed. He turned it off and freed me.
I heard people cheering when I ripped off my helmet. I smiled as much as I could. I thought I would die, but I didn't. I don't know what to think if that's not cause for celebration.
Kam said that the job was great.
That was crazy. The man said, "Tanner said."
I made an apology to Ray. He said it wasn't my fault that he tripped while moving me backwards. I thanked my lucky stars that the jetpack was strong enough to keep me out of the hillside.
It was sufficient for me. I took my car back home after changing out of my jetpack suit.
My mind was racing as I drove. It was hot and uncomfortable. I agree. I don't know if I thought I was going to die in a second. I agree. Is it possible that it will be a viable transportation method in the future? It's probably not. I don't know if I would do it again. I would like to. If I need to get somewhere, I'm more than happy to take a bus or ride an app.
One thing made me rethink.
I made it to the 101 after my car wound down the ridge. I hit bumper-to-bumper traffic outside the city while I was basking in the air conditioning. I saw a flock of black birds in the sky as I sat on an endless strip of asphalt with dozens of other cars stuck between two gas stations. I was able to see myself flying alongside them, taking off into the horizon and finally getting away from it all.
Thanks to our colleagues at The Donut, we were able to tell this story.
A new race would force jetpack pilots to careen through an obstacle course.