Ask anyone to identify the technologies that best embody the concept of “the future” and most people would probably tell you: teleporters, flying cars, and jetpacks. We don’t have the first two yet, and jetpacks have been possible but problematic for a while — though maybe not anymore.
The first recorded instance of a proper jetpack in science fiction appeared in 1928 with a jetpack-wearing hero on the cover of Amazing Stories magazine. Since then, jetpacks have been idolized for many years, though they’re not as popular today as they once were.
But that’s all changed because we now have the JB-9 by Jetpack Aviation. What took so long getting here? What makes this one different? And are there any issues to worry about? Here’s all you need to know.
Why We Don’t Have Jetpacks
Jetpacks are difficult because they need to solve so many intricate problemss, such as the type of propellant used, the cost-effectiveness of said propellant, overcoming gravity and fuel weight, maintaining stability, user-intuitive controls, and more. It’s complicated stuff.
Google actually attempted to create a jetpack once, though they’ve since abandoned the project. Why did they drop it? Because it was inefficient — requiring about four gallons of gas for one mile of travel — and roared as loud as a motorcycle. Not very practical.
In fact, inefficiency seems to be the name of the game wherever jetpacks are concerned — not just in the actual mechanics, but the manufacturing as well. Most working prototypes and models have had price tags north of $100,000. That’s on par with top luxury cars, so it’s safe to say that personal jetpacks are unaffordable for most folks.
Up til now, only two kinds of jetpacks have been plausible: the propulsive backpacks used by astronauts during space walks (no gravity to overcome) and the water-based solutions that don’t have much airtime (used primarily for entertainment).
Indeed, the JetLev can boost you out of the water and into the air at speeds up to 24 miles per hour. It works by sucking up the water around you and using it as a propellant, which is why it requires an aquatic environment. Impractical for travel but great for recreation — if you can afford to shell out $99,500.
What Makes the JB-9 Special
A lot of people like to claim the Martin Jetpack as the world’s first viable personal jetpack, but it’s not really a jetpack. It’s more like a helicopter that lets you take off and touch down — it has fuel and it technically propels you with air, but it’s not what we tend to think of when we hear “jetpack”:
On the other hand, the JB-9 is a real personal jetpack in every sense of the term. You can strap into it without much hassle, it’s relatively easy to control, and the specs are impressive when compared to jetpacks of the past: a top speed of about 60 miles per hour and a max altitude of 10,000 feet.
What’s interesting is that the JB-9 actually uses real turbojet engines, the same type of engine that’s used in turbojet aircraft, though the ones used by the JB-9 are obviously adapted to be smaller, more focused, and slightly more efficient with fuel.
The benefit of a turbojet engine is that it can be very small (and therefore lightweight) while still packing a lot of thrusting power — and that’s exactly what a jetpack needs. A lot of thrust is needed to lift humans, and every ounce saved is less weight the engine needs to lift (and therefore reduces fuel waste).
Controls for the jetpack are as intuitive as it gets: hand controls adjust the amount of thrust, the engines can be tilted back and forth to propel backwards and forwards, and you can lean left and right to control turning.
The next iteration, the JB-10, is also under development with notable improvements like faster horizontal flight speeds, automatic stabilization, and inclusion of a parachute for increased safety.
The Drawbacks of the JB-9
The Martin Jetpack is the most popular advancement in “jetpacks” prior to the JB-9, so let’s compare to that. The Martin Jetpack can fly for up to 30 minutes on a 12-gallon gasoline capacity, but falls short to the JB-9 in top speed (46 miles per hour), max altitude (3,000 feet), and cost (around $150,000).
But there are huge trade-offs here. First, the JB-9 runs on kerosene instead of gasoline because that’s what turbojet engines are designed for. Second, the JB-9 only has a capacity of 10 gallons and consumes that fuel at a rate of 1 gallon per minute, for a total flight time around 10 minutes.
Let’s put that in terms that are more comparable. In New York at the time of this writing, gasoline costs $2.00 per gallon while kerosene costs $2.74 per gallon. That’s $24 per full tank versus $27.40 per full tank, respectively, and that comes out to $0.80 per minute (Martin Jetpack) versus $2.74 per minute (JB-9).
Gasoline will likely be more expensive than kerosene in the future so the costs will even out a bit, but even so, the shorter flight time does kill much of its practicality.
Safety is another big concern. A max altitude of 10,000 feet is great as long as the jetpack doesn’t malfunction as soon as you hit your peak. And what if you spin out of control or end up launching yourself into the ground? Until built-in parachutes and auto-stabilization are available, the JB-9 is an accident waiting to happen.
A few other problems that might trouble you: the turbojet engines are loud, which makes them unsuitable for residential areas and covert uses, and the burning of kerosene contributes to air pollution (though in negligible amounts when you look at the big picture).
The final bummer is that there’s no release date or price estimate for the JB-9 yet. Jetpack Aviation wants to make sure that the device is safe and market-ready before announcing any promises like that, so if you were hoping to get your hands on one today, you’ll have to wait a little while longer.
Are you excited for the JB-9 or do you think the time for jetpacks has long passed us? How much would you be willing to spend on one? Share with us below!