Flying machine cleared for test flights

WELLINGTON - The New Zealand developers of a personalised jetpack said yesterday that aviation regulators have issued the device with a flying permit, allowing for manned test flights.

Martin Aircraft chief executive Peter Coker said that the certification was a significant milestone in the development of the jetpack, which the company hopes to begin selling next year.

"For us it's a very important step because it moves it out of what I call a dream into something which I believe we're now in a position to commercialise and take forward very quickly," Mr Coker said.

The jetpack is the brainchild of inventor Glenn Martin, who began working on it in his Christchurch garage more than 30 years ago. Inspired by childhood television shows such as Thunderbirds and Lost in Space, Mr Martin set out in the early 1980s to create a jetpack suitable for everyday use by ordinary people with no specialist pilot training.

His jetpack consists of a pair of cylinders containing propulsion fans attached to a free-standing carbon fibre frame.

The pilot backs into the frame, straps himself in and controls the wingless jetpack with two joysticks.

While the jetpack's concept is simple enough - Time magazine likened it to two enormous leaf blowers welded together - fine-tuning it into an aircraft that is safe and easy to use has been a lengthy process.

Mr Coker said that the latest prototype, the P12, incorporated huge design improvements over earlier versions.

"Changing the position of the jetpack's ducts has resulted in a quantum leap in performance over the previous prototype, especially in terms of the aircraft's manoeuvrability," he said.

Mr Coker said that a specialised version of the jetpack designed for the military and "first responder" emergency crews such as firefighters should be ready for delivery by mid-2014.

A simpler model aimed at the general public is expected to be on the market in 2015.

The price of your own personal flying machine is estimated at US$150,000 (S$190,635) to US$250,000, although Mr Coker said that the cost was likely to come down over time.

It comes with a rocket-propelled parachute if anything goes wrong.

The New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority said that the jetpack had now been issued with an experimental flight permit for development test flying, which allows someone to pilot the aircraft.