From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, July/August 2013
To every kid who ever dreamed of a career as a secret agent, it seemed totally plausible that a jet pack would be one of the tools of the trade. We would all one day have one of those futuristic propulsion devices on our backs to swoop in like James Bond or the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (or at the very least the Man from Glad) and foil espionage. Right? Well…that hasn’t happened, but if you still crave the thrill of rocketing into the air, JetLev R200X, a jet pack propelled by water, not rocket fuel, will get you there.
Imagine blasting out of the sea and into the sky powered by a hose that pumps 420 pounds of thrust to the jets strapped to your back. A power unit on the surface pumps 1,000 gallons of water a minute as you flit like a hummingbird above. Yes, you’re tethered to a small pod that holds the 255-horsepower propulsion system, but it follows you around on your 30-foot leash like a well-trained pet owner. And there you are free, to soar three stories high, perform acrobatic maneuvers and dive bomb into the water.
Inventor Raymond Li grew up with the same jet pack dream we all had, but decided to make “mainstream personal flight” a reality. And in some ways he outdid the fantasy. The jet pack of the ’60s spy movies was a Bell Rocket Belt, a very cool, completely independent flyer that had some drawbacks. The “man rocket” could only carry enough fuel for 20-second flights (later 30-second). With its fuel supply trailing in the pod, JetLev can go for hours. While the Bell system can take you aloft 100 feet (compared with 30 via the R200X), its maximum distance is a mere 800 feet. The JetLev will take you 80 miles on a single tank. And when it does run out of fuel, you gas up with the same high-test you put in your car’s tank—not hydrogen peroxide as with the Rocket Belt.
The other reality check? With the Bell Rocket Belt you need Chuck Yeager-caliber flying skills to maneuver. The JetLev has a learning curve of less than half an hour before you’re relatively accomplished. In a way, the hardest part is getting geared up. You’re strapped in with life jacket on and a helmet with headphones so the instructor can talk to you. (He can also control the R200X remotely from shore.) You throttle up like a motorcycle and slowly rise out of the water directing yourself up, down, sideways, forward and reverse with the handles at your side. At first you hover, feet dangling in the water, then do some basic maneuvers, streaking along and making lazy turns. Soon you’re ready for what everybody does it for, taking it up to altitude. But by far the strangest sensation is going submariner and freaking out the fish who’ve never seen James Bond. And should there be a problem, you can pull out the safety strap, which shuts the JetLev down and sends you floating to the surface face up.
To own a JetLev R200X yourself costs between about $68,500 and $100,000, but you can also take a resort course at a slew of locations and rent one. You mightn’t find yourself battling SPECTRE like in Thunderball, but you could create quite a sensation at the yacht club.
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