Jetpack Aviation reached a major milestone this month when it strapped a regular guy with no training into its JB-10 Jetpack. The first-time pilot managed to fly the thing, if only for an extended hovering session while tethered to a cable strung across a small, cleared section of a California avocado orchard.
The first so-called "civilian" flight of the company's impressive jet fuel-powered personal transport pack was the culmination of a long publicity campaign that began with a search for the first test pilot via a YouTube competition. Mischa Pollack, host of the channel "Drunk Tech Review" won the privilege.
Last week we joined Pollack, Jetpack CEO David Mayman and the rest of the company's small staff in the avocado orchard just north of Los Angeles where a tiny test flight facility had been constructed. Pollack was not drunk but assured us that he did have whiskey on hand, just in case.
Interestingly, Pollack does have a background in aeromechanical engineering and has worked on projects including solar-powered aircraft, but nothing remotely in the realm of a Jetpack.
"I don't really think anyone's background, no matter what you do, can prep you for flying a Jetpack," Pollack told us shortly before he disappeared into a trailer to don a fire-resistant flight suit.
We spent a few hours at the orchard, where Mayman, the company's senior engineer Stefano Paris and operations manager Boris Jarry all took turns doing seven-minute demonstration flights of the JB-10 before it was finally Pollack's turn. All three men were able to clearly control their speed, altitude and turn at will over the roughly 100-foot (30.5-m) long strip of flight space allowed by the safety tether slung perhaps 30 feet (9 m) overhead.
"This is proving we can train pretty much anybody," Mayman told us. He explained that Paris and Jarry became competent enough to control the Jetpack after just three hours of training. "I think this speaks to the stability of the machine and the intuitive nature of flying this thing; it really is like a bike."
As we awaited Pollack's first attempt at piloting a Jetpack, we checked with co-founder and designer Nelson Tyler about what could possibly go wrong during his virgin flight. The short answer was simply: a lot. So long as he didn't panic, though, everything should be ok, we were assured. Pollack said he had been advised to take things slow, calmly and for once ... soberly.
When the moment finally came, Pollack strapped in and fired up the pack's twin engines. He struggled at first to get his balance - hovering just a meter or so off the ground, the jetpack's thrust pushed him forward and if not for the tether it seemed he would have been pushed straight into a nose dive.
But with assistance from Mayman, Pollack seemed to get a feel for the flight and was soon able to sustain a hover. By the end of a second test flight, he was able to navigate the limited test flight area, if somewhat shakily and close to the ground.
"My feet got really hot," Pollack quipped in between flights, just before stepping into a bucket of water prepared for that exact purpose.
"It was really smooth... I can imagine being like these (other pilots) in just a few hours and totally rockin' it."
You can watch a little of Pollack's maiden flight as well as Jetpack Aviation's trained pilots in the video below.
The company is now working on a safety system centered around a quick-deploying parachute. Until then it will likely continue to stick to tethered flights or cruising over bodies of water for safety. The hope is to assemble a Jetpack racing team and organize the world's first Jetpack race by the end of 2017.
An equity crowdfunding campaign is being used to fund the development of the safety system as well developing a battery-powered electric ducted fan model.