Hey jetpack dreamers, sorry to be out of touch for so long. But there’s a totally good reason! I’m now doing most of my regular jetpack writing here. Please check back over there for weekly dispatches from the turbulent, tubular retro-future front.
Posted by admin on July 15, 2009 at 1:13 pm
Eighty years ago, in a once widely read pulp science fiction magazine called Amazing Stories, a character named Anthony Rogers made his debut. You probably know him better as Buck and you may even know that it was Buck Rogers who introduced the world to the compelling fantasy of the jetpack. Ever since 1928, space nuts, tech-heads, futurists, flying freaks, Star Wars fans and pretty much any one else hoping for a better commute has dreamed that one day in the not-too-distant future, Buck’s preferred mode of transportation would replace cars as the way to get from here to there a little quicker—and much cooler. Over the past eight decades there have been several dedicated efforts to realize that dream. The most recent attempt just launched not that long ago.
The biggest and best push to bring jetpacks to the masses came in the late ’50s and early ’60s in the labs of Bell Aerosystems at the company’s Niagara, New York, headquarters. But a 20 or so second flight time—a product of the amount of fuel that could be comfortably held on one’s back and the fierceness of physics—ultimately doomed the project. And yet, nostalgia junkies and garage tinkerers literally all over the world—from Mexico to Ireland, Germany, Japan and New Jersey—have kept the dream alive. Every now and then a new attempt to fly free of the apparatus of an airplane, to fly if not like a bird than as close to a bird as we can imagine, flickers to life.
Jetpack Dreams, as the book’s subtitle notes, is one man’s up and down (but mostly down) search for the greatest invention that never was. That man is me (that’s me up there, too, trying on Juan Lozano’s machine in Cuernavaca, Mexico; more on him later) and the book is about my time on the trail of a most mysterious and iconic piece of space-age hardware, the jetpack. It’s also about our collective and enduring fascination with the air and efforts to be aloft in it; it’s a story of hopes, passions, desires, obsessions, romance, physics, the seductiveness of soaring, and protective eyewear. If for some reason you don’t already know what a jetpack is, take a peek at the photos section of the site, or better yet, watch this. I can wait. Pretty sweet, huh?
As I say in the trailer, I came of age in the Star Wars era, and am part of the post-moon-landing, post-World’s Fairs generation. Like many people, I was once very certain that by no later than the year 2000 we would most definitely be living the futuristic dream. Apparently I am far from alone in that—to wit. And in that glorious, imagined future we would have long ago traded our dirt-streaked Hyundais, our battered Gia Sportages, and especially our rinky-dink Segways for shiny metal backpacks with exhaust-spewing jet engines welded to them, the better to launch ourselves like urban angels over bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic.
In Jetpack Dreams I went to find out when we can reasonably expect to fly. I left my wife and two young daughters behind and wasn’t sure I’d return in one piece. But there wasn’t time to dwell on such serious concerns. I was going jetpack hunting—who could say what I might find?
In this space I’ll give you regular updates on the progress of both the book and the ongoing work being done in garages, backyards and even on corporate campuses around the world to build the perfect ‘pack. I’ll also throw in an occasional report on related matters: flying cars, hovercrafts, teleportation, an aversion to bodily harm (particularly my own). Let’s hope this isn’t the case but if we never get our rightful jetpacks, at least we’ll always have Jetpack Dreams.
Posted by admin on June 17, 2009 at 3:15 pm
I have nothing much to add to this photo — especially since I have no idea where it came from or what it is depicting. A fantastic Jetpack Dreamer emailed it along today from Dublin, Ireland, and, well, it inspired us. If anyone out there has any info on this image, please do drop a line. In the meantime, perhaps the Louvre can make room for a little more winged glory. Yes, it belongs!
Posted by admin on June 17, 2009 at 3:00 pm
Here is the cover of this week’s New Yorker hitting stands today. The image is part of the “Innovators Issue,” featuring Malcolm Gladwell writing on underdogs, John Calopinto on neuroscience and plenty more. While it is of course lovely to see jetpacks still associated with innovation (and inspiring it), we can’t help but think that this poor car designer is dreaming of a forever out-of-reach future, rather than tending to matters a hand — like how to build the perfect electric car. On the other hand: that bubble helmet Jerry Garcia is wearing appears to possess a GPS device and other crash-avoidance instruments, which is not a bad idea, at all. So get cracking Mr. Gates!
Posted by admin on May 4, 2009 at 4:59 am
It isn’t, of course, too surprising to see this piece detailing how flying cars are a far more viable option than jetpacks in terms of satisfying our futuristic transportation fantasies. And as I say in the book, if jetpacks are really not going to happen any time soon, this is a nice alternative. But it’s still a little painful to consider just how much time and money has been committed to airborne auto efforts, while real commercial ‘pack pushes languish a little. And also, the most promising vehicle at the moment, the Terrafugia Transition, will carry a hefty initial price tag of nearly $200, 000. So clearly, this is not the thing that is going to get us all out of our clunky cars and into the gorgeous, whistling sky. The dream endures.
Posted by admin on April 14, 2009 at 10:51 am
Seems like not a week goes by that there isn’t some punchline on the show built around The Greatest Invention That Never Was. Last night it came at the 3:05 minute mark of Jon Stewart’s opening remarks on the Obama administration’s claim that the war on terror is, in fact, over. (Yes, we are all surprised to learn that.) The Daily Show joke picks up on an idea I’ve been talking about for some time now. And will contine to talk about until, you know, Barack Obama gets us our jetpacks already!
Posted by admin on April 1, 2009 at 8:31 am
It would go well with his new line, after all. He’s one of a few designers working with a retro Buck Rogers aesthetic for fall of 2009 looks. As The New York Times puts it: “Those collections — costume extravaganzas, really — were packed with references to the kind of science fiction that had its genesis during the hardscrabble 1930s. Models in glittering peak-shoulder party frocks or tricked out like astral voyagers in silver jumpsuits appeared to be suited up heroically for uncertain times ahead.”
Obviously, we are very pro any fasion movement that involves more silver jumpsuits.
Posted by admin on March 26, 2009 at 8:24 am
Scroll to the last video clip here to find out—and for a good time! (Hint: it has something to do with the very funny fellow pictured.)
Posted by admin on March 16, 2009 at 6:16 am
Somehow we missed this (and it wasn’t for lack of trolling the google, looking for every last scrap of jetpacking news), but it seems the smart science culture magazine, Seed, named the book one of the best of 2008! Check it out! Not bad company to be in, that’s numberswiki.com
for sure. I haven’t been the best at anything since I was named MVP of my high school basketball team as a sophomore—and that team went 0-19! This sure feels better than that did, and less sweaty, too. Anyway, thanks a mil Seed magazine, if we ever get the chance to hang out, the first round is totally on me.
Posted by admin on March 14, 2009 at 6:10 am
True, the great Quaker Oats pitchman and winner of moustaches has done many, many things in his long life. But as far as I know, he never strapped on an oats-pack in the interest of selling yet more hot cereal. If I am mistaken about this, please do alert me to the oversight.
Posted by admin on March 10, 2009 at 6:08 am