(SOUNDBITE OF A JET PACK)
DON GONYEA, HOST:
That is the sound of a jet pack ascending into the sky. And it's not from a movie. It's video from a test flight for a product that could be yours in a couple of years. Inventor Glenn Martin began designing a jet pack in his garage back in 1984. Last week, the Martin Aircraft Company got permission to conduct piloted tests of the one-person flying machine.
So is this a science fiction fantasy about to come true? Peter Coker is CEO of Martin Aircraft Company. He is with us from his office in Christ Church, New Zealand. Thanks for joining us.
PETER COKER: Thank you. And I'm delighted to be here.
GONYEA: So when most people imagine a jet pack, they imagine those things that we saw a video of, you know, what, 30, 40, 50 years ago, that little thing that they wear on their back with two little handles in front and smoke shooting out of the bottom. What you have come up with is a bit more complicated. Describe for us what it looks like.
COKER: The ones you've seen in the previously that you talked about in history tend to have a very limited time of endurance - anything from, you know, 20 seconds to about 40 seconds. We wanted something that you could actually use on a day-to-day basis. So what we have is we have a basic structure with the two ducts on it and the engine. And on that, we place what we call the pilot console. Primarily, it's there so that he can just stand on this thing, strap himself in and use the controls that we have to fly himself around.
GONYEA: OK. So the video - I will admit the video is very intriguing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN JETPACK TEST FLIGHT VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Looking good. I'm ready to go.
GONYEA: We see the pilot take off, and there's a helicopter next to him. And he achieves significant altitude. But tell me what I'm looking at in that video.
COKER: There was a perception amongst the public and certain aviators, a skeptical perception that actually this thing doesn't get above what we call ground effect, i.e. a couple of feet. So we wanted to do two things. We wanted to prove that, and the second thing we wanted to prove was a ballistic parachute was going to be suitable for an occasion where we had an emergency landing. What you're seeing on that particular video was actually a dummy in that particular one because clearly we didn't want to go and try this parachute for the first time with a real person in it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN JETPACK TEST FLIGHT VIDEO)
COKER: And it actually went up to 5,000 feet for this particular exercise before we fired the chute.
GONYEA: That's a mile, just shy of a mile.
COKER: That's right. We say - reckon it can probably move about 8,000 feet, and we don't think that many people will want to go around much more higher than that, particularly when they're strapped into this machine.
GONYEA: So who do you imagine is going to be buying these things, using these things?
COKER: Our first jet pack, which comes out in 2014, will be really targeted towards what we call the first responder. We have a lot of interest from the fire services around the world right now. We see it being used in search and rescue, border patrol, things like pipeline inspections, inspection of your bridges and things like that. So those are our first target areas. And there has been tremendous interest from the military across the world as well. This thing could actually be flown either as a manned item or an unmanned item.
GONYEA: You're describing these very practical uses, but at the same time, it feels like it's out of Marvel Comics or something.
COKER: That's the exciting part of this. I mean, I think we're finding tremendous interest in this product because of that particular concept. But what is really fantastic is taking something out of the comic books and actually using it in a practical world. I mean, this will change the whole dynamics of aviation.
GONYEA: OK. So here's the big question. How much is it going to cost me to fly one of these babies off the lot?
COKER: The figures I gave, I guess, are really ballpark at this stage. For the individual and the commercial sector, we're going to be targeting around about the 150 to $175,000, about the same as a really, really good sports car.
GONYEA: All right. Peter Coker is the CEO of Martin Aircraft Company. You can see a video of the Martin Jetpack test flights at our website. Go to npr.org and click on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Thank you, sir.
COKER: Thank you very much.
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