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Glenn Martin, the Martin Jetpack and Me!

Fun Pod

I remember being thunderstruck when word broke of the Martin Jetpack at its public debut, at AirVenture 2008, in Oshkosh. It wasn’t because it was cutting edge, an obvious revolution in aviation, or even a dream come true. No, what struck me was that it was made in my home town of Christchurch! Here I was, like many out there, shouting from the rooftop, “It’s the 2000’s already - where the hell is my Jet Pack?!”, only to learn a local across town had been working on one, in secret, for over thirty years!

Because the location of the testing facility was, and remains, secret (well, I suspect mostly secret), I had wondered what the chances were of ever seeing it up close. Imagine my delight when it seemed I just may get that chance after all, with this ad appearing in the local paper:

There it was, in black and white: “… up close…”

“I am so there.”

Now, you’ll have to excuse the quality of the accompanying photos, which were taken with a fairly low-rez camera, from a distance in a darkened auditorium, without flash (just Google Martin Jetpack for far better images of the machine itself), but they do give you a sense of the atmosphere of the lecture theatre.

Up on stage, dramatically spotlighted, were two gleaming white machines, looking not unlike a harness with port and starboard control stalks, between what appear to be large salt and pepper shakers. The machine located stage left was a simulator (shown below). Bugger that, I know which way is up! Stage right was the real deal – the Martin Jetpack.

Before I could say, “How much?”, the lights dimmed and Intro Guy made a wee speech, to the effect that this public appearance was part of a national tour, as part of the Sir William Pickering Lecture Series.
For those of you who may not know, William Pickering was a New Zealand-born rocket scientist who headed the Jet Propolsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, for 22 years, retiring in 1976. He was a senior NASA luminary and pioneered the exploration of space (for more: )

^ Intro guy kicks off the lecture.

After much ado, Intro Guy finally introduced the inventor of the Martin Jetpack – Glenn Martin.

^ Glenn Martin with Prototype 10 of his Jetpack.

Although the lecture covered a lot of ground, in a nutshell …

… Glenn’s speech started with the mythology of flight – Icarus flying too close to the sun, the inventions of Da Vinci, through historical milestones in aviation history: from the Wright Brothers, the related (divergent) paths of Sikorsky and Bell helicopters, through to the X-Planes, right up to Man landing on the Moon.

But this condensed history was also nicely peppered with concurrent popular culture references: science fiction fascinations throughout the decades, including the Buck Rogers flying belt, the rocket packs of movie serial heroes, like King of the Rocketmen, the Bell rocket pack appearing in a James Bond movie and TV’s Lost in Space (I also seem to remember seeing one in Ark II when I was younger), Disney’s Rocketeer, and onward to Iron Man, etc. It seems all of these influences both fuelled and have sustained Glenn over the last thirty years.

The lecture then moved on to the technical innovations, which in some instances embraced known aviation engineering concepts and in others discarded them. I can’t remember the greater part of this section, but as an example, like many others, I assumed that the jet fans must counter-rotate for stability. Not so. Glenn and his team have patented air foils which allow both fans to rotate in the same direction, without loss of control.
Another point of interest was the harness adjustment required, dependant on the weight of the pilot – the heavier the pilot, the closer to the pack; the lighter the pilot, the further forward for greater balance.
Glenn admitted that the Jetpack would be more stable with wings, but then it would also be heavier and lose its status as a microlight.
And, crucial to the success of the design, is the simplification of computerised controls, so that almost anyone can fly it.
And in what was arguably the greatest surprise, his admission that he is not an engineer – he started the project while studying biochemistry!

^ A powerpoint show covered some of the design innovations of the jetpack.

The lecture moved on to entrepreneurial side of things – how to market a new product, like, say, a jetpack!
Glenn outlined looking for the perfect event to debut his machine – AirVenture 2008, as mentioned above, and how that one appearance featured in over 900 newscasts and publications all over the world in just a few days – exposure you couldn’t buy if you tried.
We’re all familiar with Bull Durham’s “If you build it, they will come”, and Glenn outlined some key contracts he now has in place, such as a current order for several hundred jetpacks intended for Search and Rescue and other emergency services, as well as, inevitably, military hush-hush jobbies with extra specs (during a later Q&A, someone asked were there any ongoing efforts to dampen attendant noise … Glenn merely answered, “Yes” and moved on quickly. I got the distinct impression that a stealth version is indeed in development under a contract he alluded to earlier … with the US DoD).

However, Glenn is more interested in taking his invention to the common man for … fun! And here he compared it to snow-mobiles and aquatic jet-skis – a recreational vehicle, with a business plan, based on the success of another Kiwi entrepreneur, AJ Hackett, who commercialised bungy jumping worldwide. Unlike the bungy business model, Glenn's corporation is protected by at least four patents, However, he was quick to point out, that once a unit was purchased, it was a relatively easy matter to reverse engineer.

Future plans include training schools around the world, which would allow everyday Dick and Janes like you and me to learn how to at least fly a jetpack, if not actually own one.

At the end of a thoroughly interesting and entertaining lecture (Glenn is actually a funny guy, and a Monty Python fan to boot), there was a brief Q&A session, highlighted by a slightly poignant moment, when someone asked about the origin of his corporate logo. Take a look:

Here, Glenn outlined several levels of meaning:

You will note the logo is in the shape of a man with wings, alluding to the freedom of flight. But note that the wings have four feathers. Glenn stated that he took supporting his wife and family very seriously, therefore, the lowest feather represented him, supporting the second feather, his wife Vanessa, supporting the remaining feathers, their two sons. The feathers are also shaped to represent the fans of his jetpack design.
Then you will note the ‘V’ symbol in the middle. Not only does it look like a harness strap, but the V is actually Glenn’s tribute to his wife Vanessa, who was the first to fly an earlier prototype, by simple virtue of being lighter than him.
The finish of the logo alludes to the polished metal of classical ‘futuristic’ craft but that it is also handmade.
Finally, the flying man has his back to us, as he ‘faces the future’ and Glenn’s corporation ‘takes flight’ and ‘moves forward’.
Apparently, there are two other levels of meaning, deeply personal to him, which he chose not to reveal.

After a Q&A session, the audience were invited down to the stage to look at the jetpacks “up close” and try the simulator, which rose off the floor and pitched and rolled realistically, as you ‘flew’ through environments projected on a portable screen.

^ The Martin Jetpack simulator. Interested parties crossed all age groups.

^ A close up of the Jetpack harness.

I capped off the evening with a pic taken in the pack – hell, who could resist!

^ Fun Pod transforms into Rocket Pod, King of the Stratosphere!, and considers hijacking the unit via the nearest ceiling exit.