Jetpack racing could join this year's Air Race World Championship
JetPack Aviation CEO David Mayman says the company is in discussions with the Air Race World Championship team on starting a world-first race series in September that would see jetpack pilots competing on parallel aerial obstacle courses.
While about 70 percent of the company's resources are currently going to the remarkable Speeder Air Utility Vehicle, JetPack Aviation (JPA) certainly hasn't forgotten about the groundbreaking jetpacks that launched the company to worldwide prominence in 2015, when Mayman made a spectacular flight around the Statue of Liberty that would have been inconceivable with the severely limited range of previous rocket belts.
The turbine-powered JB-series jetpacks are now commercially available, and JPA is close to delivery on its first customer orders – two JB12s for military use in South-East Asia and one JB10 for a private customer in the United States. "We have qualified, serious interest for maybe about 10 other consumer jetpacks at this stage," Mayman tells us, "but we have to juggle that with the work we're doing on the Speeder."
A new JB14 jetpack is currently under development, which would roll in some fly-by-wire flight controller technology developed for the Speeder, allowing for things like automated LiDAR-powered height hold and yaw stabilization.
JPA has set up a training and experience facility in California, where it's possible for anyone to go and fly one of these things, and Mayman and other JPA team members have been putting on extraordinary demo flights at locations all over the world.
But things could be about to get a lot more fun.
"We've been talking to the Air Race World Championship guys," says Mayman, "they've taken over the assets of the Red Bull Air Race. We're working with them to create a parallel jetpack racing series. We'll initially field the JB-10, and eventually the JB-14 for those races. We might even field the Speeder when it's ready!"
For safety reasons, air racing is pretty much impossible to do head-to-head. But the small size of the jetpacks and the obstacles they'd be racing around means it's possible to put two, or even three parallel courses out next to each other over a body of water, and have pilots race simultaneously.
"There'll be a series of pylons, rings and hoops," Mayman says. "The obstacles will be vertical as well as horizontal; you'll have to go under this and over that, through this ring and around this pylon.
The Air Race World Championship team wants to bring in brand-name racers from other motorsports as jetpack pilots.
"Some of the folks they're thinking about are young racers, people with motorcycle experience, Dakar experience, that sort of thing," says Mayman. "We've been very clear that we'll get the ultimate say on who gets to fly!"
While the company says the dual-engine JB10 is capable of well over 120 mph (200 km/h), we're unlikely to see racers hitting these speeds; it'll be much more about agility and control.
"As probably the world's most experienced jetpack pilot," says Mayman, "I can tell you there's no way they'll be getting through those obstacles and getting much faster than 50 miles an hour (80 km/h)."
Is the world's most experienced jetpack pilot interested in suiting up for a race himself?
"Could happen, could happen," he laughs. "Or I might at least have to demo it and see what these courses are like to fly. I'm still very much enjoying the jetpacks. I'm looking forward to the JB14!"
The race series is still under negotiation, with the final deal yet to be struck. But if it's confirmed, JPA will need to act fast to be ready for its prime-time debut.
"At the moment," says Mayman, "we're talking about launching around September, so we need to build another six machines and train about 30 new pilots, which we'll then whittle down to 10. It's going to be a mission! We won't start that until we're certain it's happening, but we've got in-house instructors now that can get people through training relatively quickly."
See Mayman in action in the video below.
Source: JetPack Aviation