The History and Future of Jetpacks: Humanity’s Obsession with Personal Flight in Photos

(Pocket-lint) – Earlier this month, British inventor, Richard Browning set a new record for the fastest flight in a body-controlled jet-powered suit. Using an Iron Man-type jet suit, he managed to reach speeds of more than 32 mph over the waters of Lagoona Park in Reading, UK.

This effort set a new flight record that made it the Guinness World Records, and yet it is just one in a long line of experiments by mankind to achieve perfect personal flight. This passion for jetpacks and suit-powered flight began in the world of science fiction, but quickly blossomed into a dangerous, yet fascinating reality.

From the pages of science fiction to the present day, we take a look back at the history of man’s quest for personal flight over the last 70 years. Come with us as we take off into the sky and into the hearts and minds of inventors everywhere.

1928 is probably the first year that man dreamed of powered flight and put pencil to paper to create the vision. In a science fiction novel titled “The Skylark of Space,” writer Edward E. Smith imagines a future in space where man discovers a new element that enables him to achieve the wonder of flight. This vision is seen on the cover of a magazine called “Amazing Stories” from August 1928 which also included works by HG Wells. While it might not be the first time mankind has thought of flight, it would certainly be the inspiration for future jetpack-based flight.

A few years after The Skylark of Space, a jetpack-powered hero made his way to the silver screen in the form of “Rocket Man.” A scientist created a sound-powered jetpack, jacket, and helmet to help him battle the evil villain Dr. Vulcan. The Adventures of Rocket Man was released in 12 chapters in 1949 and would go on to inspire the minds of future generations.

In the 1960s, fiction and reality collided, when James Bond used the Bell Aerosystems “Rocket Belt” in Thunderball. After Bond assassinates Jacques Bouvar, he uses the jetpack to escape by briefly flying over the top of a castle and out of enemy range. A fantastic use of a jetpack that thrilled the masses, but the rocket belt itself was of very limited use, being only capable of about 21 seconds of flight. This early jetpack system also cost over $200,000 to develop and ended up being canceled as a project due to skyrocketing costs.

Jetpacks would go on to become popular on the big screen and in science fiction, and by 1982, the Rocketeer proved to be such a popular comic book series that it also found its way into video games and movies.

Personal flight hasn’t always been about jetpacks. Over the years, there have been many different designs with different technologies, all aimed at helping man fly. Although these forms of transportation may have their origins in science fiction, the science fact is also quite interesting.

In 1954, the HZ-1 Aerocycle was created for the US Army as a one-man “personal helicopter” that was to be easily flown by infantrymen as an aerial reconnaissance vehicle. However, unsurprisingly, it never made it to the battlefield, as various accidents caused the project to be abandoned. We are not surprised, since it seems quite dangerous.

However, the design was quite interesting. The flight was intended to last up to 40 minutes after only 20 minutes of training on how to fly the vehicle. The HZ-1 Aerocycle could reach speeds of 75 mph with a range of 15 miles and a flight ceiling of 5,000 feet.

During the years following World War II, Thomas T. Moore worked alongside Dr. Werhner von Braun. While the latter scientist was working on ways to send a man to the moon in a rocket, the former was trying to understand the technology to apply rockets to a man for his personal flight. With a small amount of funding from the army, he managed to create a working prototype known as the “Jetvest” and flew it for the first time in 1952. Unfortunately, the funds ran out soon after and the project had to be abandoned.