Ups and downs of jetpacks
By Justin Mullins BY DAY Stuart Ross is an airline pilot. By night he dreams of flying. The sort of flight he has in mind is a million miles from his daily routine: no air traffic control, no passengers and definitely no wings. He dreams of leaping into the air from a standing start, jumping clear over his house, halting motionless hundreds of metres up to admire the view and then descending gracefully back onto his lawn. Ross is tantalisingly close to that goal. He has spent two years and £50,000 building his own shiny jetpack. Along the way, he has scorched his clothes and garden with a fuel so unstable that in a recent accident it turned a section of the UK’s busiest motorway into a blazing inferno. And he has almost broken his neck. But at last he’s nearly ready to step outside and take to the air. The first jetpack flew more than 40 years ago, so you might expect that by now designs would be impressively slick – perhaps even ready for daredevil commuters who want to feel the wind on their cheeks. Yet you still can’t buy or even rent one. Those that exist remain firmly in the hands of a few diehards like Ross, one of a rare breed of self-taught engineers struggling to overcome the technology’s inherent limitations and immense dangers. Their story is itself a white knuckle ride, a tale of lethal rocket fuel, technological bravado and death-defying bravery, but also of greed, kidnapping and even murder. So what has gone wrong? And will the jetpack ever live up to its promise?