Spirit in the Sky

by Sally Applin

Today I checked out the “Jet Pack” demo at the Hiller Aviation museum in San Carlos, CA. They are hosting a two day exhibition, devoted to Jet pack and Rocket pack technologies. At the end of the thunderman.net lecture, I wasn’t sure if it was a “Jet” pack or a “Rocket” pack that I saw, but seeing a man blast off a deck, fly around 50′ overhead and zoom back to land was thrilling.

There’s more to it. The jet man doing the demo was sponsored by Go Fast, which is a company that produces highly caffeinated sports drinks. Go Fast has a stable of extreme sports athletes as their spokespeople. At the Q & A, the jet man seemed very…well, caffinated. He does so many flights, I was seriously wondering how long his renal function would be working. 

The jet man was really just a hired gun to fly. An ex-stuntman turned Rocket pack operator. Knew nothing of the science behind his craft, but really knew how to fly it. The whole scene, with the big tractor trailer truck for “Go Fast” and the rock music and his Nascar looking outfit, struck me as a cross between a sideshow and a horse race, with the jet man halfway between a jockey and racehorse. Highly strung, physically fit, jittery, and farmed out to risk his life while his managers made the money.

Seeing him fly really was amazing, but at the Q&A, I really got uncomfortable. It was open to questions and I asked the jet man how he trained, what he did to restore his adrenal function after several flights in a row, and if he ever just got really tired and collapsed.

Unfortunately, all he heard was my asking as part of the preparation question if he took caffeine, and he used my entire question as a pitch for “Go Fast.” He was in there though. He could rattle out the numbers and ratios and seconds he could fly at what speed for how much height and distance and how he could work out getting back. A savant almost about that stuff. Very narrowly focused. Like a racehorse.

The jet man looked like Skeletor. My friend pointed out that maybe he was thin to stay light so that he could go further on the fuel. (The current pack goes for 30 seconds.) I hope so. I felt very worried for him. He was doing what he loved, but there didn’t seem to be any monitoring of his health or welfare or well being. Just put on the suit, put on the pack, fly the loop and 3 hours later do it again. It seemed that his vulnerability in so many ways was so visible, and yet, the guy was heroic for even trying it.

I’m not sure what to think of the whole thing. The jet pack flight was an awesome experience to witness, but the jet man got me wondering about what the human body is designed to do, and what it can withstand. Are we built to travel by jet pack?

For one thing, we weigh too much. The average person is not going to be able to strap on a 100+ pound pack. For another, even if we could strap on a pack and get airborne, our chances of a smooth flight without crashing into each other is highly limited. We can’t even walk down a crowded street without running into one another.  About as much adrenaline as I could take, was when I lived in Manhattan and walked home up 5th Avenue at rush hour. Adding a jet pack to that already loaded stressful feeling seems like a recipe for disaster–especially when its combined with hundreds of other people doing the same thing at the same time.

It seems that with every generation, we get closer to having the jet pack technology more refined and the proposed uses more real. The technology does evolve, but at the current 30 second flight, there is a long way to go.

The questions for me is:  Will accelerated flying run the body into the ground?

Trend: Jet packs may be coming to an airfield near you, but its unlikely you’ll see them in town. At the moment, the closest people will get to getting a boost when walking through Manhattan traffic will probably be from drinking “Go Fast.”

©2008-2015 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

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