Water-based jetpacking originally looked like an insane activity for the extremely rich and bored, but it has gradually gained in popularity. First, we saw the JetLev-Flyer, then the Flyboard, and now the X-Jetpack H3X Hydro. More than just a "me too" competitor in the water jetpack market, the H3X offers a few key evolutionary advantages for novices, families and daredevils alike.
X-Jetpacks believes that hydro jetpacking has the broad appeal to make it more than a wild fringe sport watched millions of times over on YouTube. It seems to believe that it could become a beach-vacation standard, much like jet skiing or para-sailing. It's just a matter of designing and marketing safe, comfortable equipment, and the company believes it's done just that with the H3X, which made its world trade show debut at last month's Boot Dusseldorf show.
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As in the Flyboard, X-Jetpacks does away with the need for the custom propulsion craft – and six-figure price tag – of early Jetlev models by offering a kit that bolts onto existing personal water craft models. The H3X kit is compatible with SeaDoo, Yamaha and Kawasaki personal watercraft (PWC) with at least 150 horsepower on tap. The PWC's engine powers the water propulsion system at the touch of the throttle, allowing a driver seated on the water to control the flight of the H3X rider in the air. X-Jetpacks has not yet developed a self-throttle for the H3X, and its idea is that a tour operator can safely control a paying customer, or a parent can safely control their son or daughter, etc. The rider remains within 40 feet (12.2 m) and pulls the PWC along.
Unlike the standing Flyboard, the H3X is a saddled design more similar in form to the Jetlev. X-Jetpacks has hit the market with an eye on improving existing hardware, and it's even converted a few key Jetlev employees along the way.
"Our first jetpack, the H2X was introduced in 2013 to a select group of the world’s most expert jetpack trainers and riders," the company explains on its website. "Frazier Grandison was the co-inventor of the original water jetpack. Keith Paul was the head trainer at the Jetlev Flight Academy in Florida. The result of the testing? Both of them decided that the X-Jetpack was the superior way forward and joined our rebel force. Together with them we built the H3X evolution and lead the industry to market in sport jetpacks."
While the H3X is very similar to its competitors in spirit, the devil is in the details. X-Jetpacks improved key aspects of jetpack design to make it more comfortable, better performing and safer for the average Joe and pro 'packer alike. It claims that its nozzles, backed by a flexible U pipe jet ski connection and Y tube on the pack, are the most powerful and efficient in the industry, creating tight, direct streams of water. This means more available power, more efficient use of the PWC engine, more height, and a quieter, smoother ride on the water.
X-Jetpacks also says that its custom rotary bearings allow for smooth turning and control, helping the rider convert the power into a fun, stable ride. Its bearings also allow for smooth, unlimited helicopter spins, something that X-Jetpacks says sets the H3X apart from other hydro jetpacks.
Other improvements and innovations that X-Jetpacks lists include a frame with superior head clearance, improved padding around the head and shoulders, a comfortable, composite saddle that keeps the legs from swinging, a purpose-built harness with marine-grade hardware, and a quick-connection system for hooking up to the PWC.
X-Jetpacks plans to see its design right through to the customer. It handles all its own manufacturing and claims to send a more complete kit than the competition, with less buyer assembly required.
"We met our competition in the US and Europe, saw their workshops," the company says. "We did some business with them and talked to other people that bought the expensive machines, and others that put money down on products and never received them."
"In virtually every aspect we saw the need for improvement. The biggest was manufacturing, both of the ‘market leaders' had never built anything before. We knew from experience that the key to controlling and building the world’s best hydro sport equipment was our own manufacturing facility. For 2014 we have just moved into our own 1,200-square meter (13,000 sq ft) factory. All of our assembly and in-house testing takes place here."
In Dusseldorf, X-Jetpacks showed a prototype steering adapter that makes for quicker conversion. When a jet ski is outfitted with the H3X bolt-on conversion kit, it essentially becomes a jetpack engine incapable of driving like a jet ski. The conversion process involves about 30 to 40 minutes of greasy wrenching, so it's not something you want to do out in the water or on the beach.
The clamp-on adapter will provide three-minute, on-water conversion back to jet ski form, offering up to 85 percent of the craft's stock performance. This way, users can easily use the PWC both as a jet ski and a jetpack engine during the same outing. They'll be able to jet ski out to a good launch location on the water (instead of getting towed), remove the adapter, hook the H3X up and start flight.
The H3X is available now in the Caribbean for a promotional price of US$8,250 and in Europe and Asia for €6,495. The regular MSRP is listed at $9499/€7495. The company says that due to some impending intellectual property disputes, it is unable to ship in all markets, mentioning the United States and Canada specifically. It is working on a first-person throttle model for later in the year, so that the flyer can control the power on his own, without the need for a PWC driver.
In related hydro jetpack news, Jetlev-Flyer showed its own add-on package at the Boot Dusseldorf show. The Jetpack Add-On Kit eliminates the need to pay tens of thousands of dollars for one of its custom propulsion craft, allowing you to use an existing SeaDoo or Yamaha PWC as the power plant, just like the H3X and Flyboard. The basic Add-On Kit costs €7,990 (US$10,900), and the model with self-piloting throttle costs €9,990 (US$13,600). The company also has a larger line of propulsion PWCs than when it first started out, a line that includes the all-new €27,490 (US$37,500) Shark.
And, of course, no jetpack article is complete without a little video showing the device in action.