Why There Are No Jetpacks in Our Future

For all you fans who are obsessed with this troubling question, Bill Willingham explains why we’ll never have the jetpack future portrayed on pulp magazine covers:

Here’s the thing: we want more safety now than we did then. We expect it. Hell, we demand it…. The problem with jetpacks and flying cars is that they aren’t already 100% safe to all potential users. They don’t get, and never will get, the time to develop and perfect that we’ve given our airplanes and ground cars. We have our jetpacks and flying cars and we simply aren’t going to use them….

In his Known Space series of novels and stories, the vastly talented and industrious science fiction author Larry Niven created a race of aliens called the Pierson’s Puppeteers. …They are a species of genetic and cultural cowards. More than anything else they are motivated by the desire, by the all-encompassing need, to be safe….

I’m afraid that’s who we’ve chosen to become… We had our chance at a jetpack future but turned them down.

Better find my unbreakable mirror and count my heads….

[Thanks to David Klaus for the link.]

Did You Blink and Miss the Future?

Whether your vision of the future dates back to Frank R. Paul’s covers for Amazing Stories, or the 1964 World’s Fair, it takes only a simple look out the window to see those dreams didn’t come true. However, CNN’s article “Why our ‘amazing’ science fiction future fizzled” is much more entertaining than most articles that begin with this pedestrian comparison. Author John Blake reminds everyone how many of these technical marvels were actually invented and why not using them as envisioned has been a good thing:

The jet pack, though, has never really taken off, Wilson says. The problem is its practical application. While a rocket belt could propel a screaming human to 60 mph in seconds, its fuel lasted for only about half a minute, “which led to more screaming,” Wilson says.

The military couldn’t find a useful application for it either. A soldier with a jet pack might look cool, but he’s an easy target. Nor could a jet pack be of use to ordinary people who wanted to avoid rush-hour traffic, Wilson says. Jet-packing hordes could transform the skies into an aerial demolition derby, with air rage and drunk drivers turned into wobbly human torpedoes.

Royal Gorge, Not Steve Canyon

David Klaus spotted this report of a jet pack pilot flying across a vast Colorado canyon:

A daredevil wearing a jet pack has flown across a 1,500-foot-wide canyon in southern Colorado. The sponsoring Go Fast Sports & Beverage says Eric Scott took 21 seconds to cross the Royal Gorge at 75 mph on Monday. It says he didn’t use a parachute while flying across the 1,100-foot-deep canyon.

David thinks “It sounds like something Homer Simpson would do, resulting in him bouncing and smashing down the canyon wall, but no, somebody really has done it, and safely. Maybe a few of us will commute with jetpacks at that. Me? I just want to do like Commando Cody did in Radar Men from the Moon and fly over the Valley from Studio City to Granada Hills.”

New Jetpack Startup

Martin Jetpack

Whether the Martin Jetpack even deserves the name is controversial:

The fact that the device reached no more than 6 ft. of altitude during its various test runs at Oshkosh could indicate that it’s not achieving true flight, but a limited amount of lift, due to a phenomenon called “ground effect.” Spinning blades can create a cushion of air below a vehicle, which is how hovercrafts glide across the water.

That, and other abuse is being heaped on the startup by its competitors, in a Popular Mechanics article.

David Klaus forwarded the link along with his own comments:

More breathy coverage of the fledgling commercial jetpack industry. I remember Linda Bushyager once saying about the NASFiC, “It was an idea whose time should never have come.” Whether that applies here, further deponent sayeth not. Best comment I ever saw about jetpacks: comic book scene in which the Atom stares, jaw-dropped, as the villain escapes and says, “Wow. Jetpack Hitler. Reality has jumped the shark.”