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Environment & Climate Change

It's 2013, why don't we have jet packs yet?


Ask any baby boomer who grew up watching science fiction movies after school or The Jetsons on the Saturday morning cartoons: strapping on a jet pack and zipping through the sky seemed like a done deal.

So why are we in 2013 still waiting to fly like a bird? We got astronauts on the moon. We've got an orbiting space station. Where are the jet packs?

That's the question Steve Lehto asks in his new book "The Great American Jet Pack: The Quest for the Ultimate Individual Lift Device" published by the Chicago Review Press.

“The idea of being able to fly of course is something that, I think, is actually instinctive,” said Lehto. “I think everyone is born with the notion that you wish you could just step up into the sky and fly around like a bird.”

The idea of the jet pack originated in the army in the 1950s as a device that would allow soldiers to jump over hazards on the battlefield. Scientists came up with some ideas, but none of them worked well enough. The most successful personal lift device, the rocket belt, burned hundreds of dollars of fuel and only allowed for 21 seconds of flight.

Eventually, the rockets of the rocket belt were replaced with a small jet engine, creating the jet pack. It now allowed for 5 minutes of flight, but cost still made it impractical.

And even now, in 2013, there are still issues, like what would happen if you lose power while up in the sky?

“Nobody yet has figured out how to make one of these things fly for a long period of time, not cost a trillion dollars, and not kill you the moment you run out of power,” explained Lehto.

So will we ever reach a time when everyone owns their own jet pack?

“It’ll probably never happen for the average person,” Lehto predicted. “The problem always is what happens when you lose power? And no company in their right mind would build a device that would kill a person the first time it was mishandled.”

But there is always a chance. It's becoming more and more common to hear about people who have built their own flying devices. In the meantime, we will just have to be content with science fiction.

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

To hear the full interview, click the audio above.

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