Is New Zealand busting out of the Great Stagnation?

Or is this a terrifying novelty for a country which doesn’t have very strict liability law?

…a planned launch of a jetpack in New Zealand next year has bureaucrats scratching their heads, particularly as the machine’s makers say the thing can travel up to 7,000 feet in the air at speeds of 50 miles an hour.

“Think of it like a motorcycle in the sky,” says Peter Coker, chief executive of Martin Aircraft Co. Ltd., which has spent 30 years developing the Martin Jetpack here. The Martin jetpack is unique in that it is not rocket powered but has a gasoline engine driving twin-ducted fans. The latest P12 prototype, a far sleeker and shinier model than the earlier versions, will allow a pilot to fly for up to half an hour.

New Zealand is taking the prospect of jetpacks in its airspace seriously, even though the product’s price—more than $150,000—means that just a few dozen have been reserved. Most of those are going to overseas customers.

And yet there is a problem, even in “regulation light” New Zealand:

“If you land in someone’s paddock, you will always land on their prime sheep,” Mr. Kenny says, stressing that liability insurance for pilots is a must.

…Still up in the air is whether they will eventually be allowed to fly over built-up areas. The latest prototype has been certified for manned test flights in New Zealand, but it can’t be flown more than 20 feet above ground or more than 25 feet above water.

The article has other points of interest.  Here are related pieces.


I don't get it. 7000 feet, 50 mph and 1/2 h? One of these figures must be wrong. If you fly at 50 mph you'll fly 7k feet in less than 5min. The only way to reach 30 min of airtime would presumably be to hover, and that would have to use up way less fuel than flying anywhere (which I don't believe). In other news, 7k feet makes a very poor radius. I can walk that with no worry of having to refuel. Reaching anybody's sheep at all seems to me to be out of range. File that under "expensive way to jet-ski for 5 minutes".

The ceiling is 7000', not the radius.

You may be surprised at how often sheep are in range in New Zealand. And oddly enough sea lions too as they they seem to like cruising around inland.

Jet != Ducted fan.

I think the problem is "Ducted fan pack" != cool.

What worries me most, though, is the claim that it can fly for "up to" half an hour. When, exactly, do you find out that your flight is going to be less than that?

Fuel gauge presumably. The good thing about aviation is you never get stuck up there. Always come back down.

This is a highly inefficient mode of travel in an already highly inefficient field. I would jump on a chance to fly it (because why not?) but it has no functional purpose that is not being filled already by airframes that are faster and cheaper with better payloads.

There have been a few real jet packs. All of them have a fixed wing with jet engines attached. It hasn't worked without a wing.

The other common method is using rockets, which again, isn't a jet pack. While I get saying jet pack is cooler than ducted fan pack, rocket pack seems just as cool. And yet people call rocket packs jet packs. Which is cooler "jetman" or "rocketman"?

A working, practical jet pack of any sort (even if it's not really a "jet" jet pack) would be very cool indeed. Nonetheless, I'll remain skeptical until I see strong evidence of a practical, working device. Why?

Well, there have been quite a few jet packs over the years, yet all have had serious problems and/or limitations. (see "The Great American Jet Pack: The Quest for the Ultimate Individual Lift Device" by Steve Lehto).

SO, I hope this one actually works, BUT want hear more about it than the promoter's hype.

Why is this highly inefficient?

If proven to work without huge disaster rates, I'd use one to commute to work for sure. How is ground-based travel for a single person (e.g. a bicycle - takes forever; a motorcycle - you're at the mercy of traffic or poor roadways; or a car - see motorcycle x 2) more efficient exactly?

I agree. It is probably less fuel efficient (for sure).
But there may be a narrow class of people for whom time is more valuable than the cost of gasoline. And that same group of people might be the kind of people who can afford a $150,000 jet pack, but not a private jet.

We allow humans to scream down surface streets mere feet from our homes and children wearing eight thousand pounds of armor. On the one hand these things are useless, on the other I suspect they'll work out the legal issues somehow.

In fairness, a jetpack might be harder to use safely than a car.

No, not really, on net. This is why motorcyclists fuel the organ donation industry but nobody is scared of being killed by a biker while he is on his motorcycle.

I sort of agree with your point, but it's not the full picture. I discount the risk to the operator. It's the risk to non-involved persons that matters. Motorcycles are largely confined to roads where they can only encounter people wearing the aforementioned eight thousand pounds of armor. Motorcycle-pedestrian accidents probably suck every bit as much as car-pedestrian accidents, but vehicle-pedestrian accidents are somewhat rare because the two don't mix in the same space often.

Jetpacks, however, could easily impact non-involved persons, and the severity of those accidents is likely high. Would you want one flying over your house? Some sort of zoning or flight corridor might make sense.

Quite. I'll be just as happy not to have lightly-regulated human bombs flying over my bedroom, thanks all the same.

Perhaps the most literal example of Not In My Backyard ever.

Time and time again the comments on this blog confirm that technological stagnation is not merely or even primarily the result of having exhausted all the low-hanging fruit but of a shift in the West to a risk-adverse culture.

Every new invention more tangible than a social app is responded to with - what will the regulatory framework be? How will they deal with liability issues?

Nevermind motorcycles in the sky, if real motorcycles were only just invented, would they be allowed on the road alongside cars and trucks today?

Yes--we spend more time asking questions like "how is this not going to kill people" now than we did in 1880. And we are less likely to accept "Oh well--tough luck!" as a viable liability model.

On the whole, I don't have a huge problem with that. Especially if the alternative paradigm is that my estate can sue your estate after you jetpack through my roof and burn my house down.

> Nevermind motorcycles in the sky, if real motorcycles were only just invented, would they be allowed on the
> road alongside cars and trucks today?

Nevermind motorcycles, if cars were only just invented they'd never be allowed. Hell, gasoline would never be allowed were it invented today. Seriously, gasoline is flammable, explosive, intoxicating, poisonous, and carcinogenic. I would personally consider a diesel vehicle just to be around gasoline less.

My problem is not so much that society's tolerance for risk has lessened. That probably makes sense as we get richer and can afford to spend more on risk-reduction and have more to lose with longer lifetimes and such. It's that people have such a lousy quantitative picture of risk. Their judgement is terrible. So we have people frightened of global warming and opposed to nuclear power. Worried about things leaching out of the plastic in their milk container and drinking raw milk from a farm, but in a glass bottle.

Even this cockamamie tech would kill far fewer per mile traveled than the auto system micromanaged by the government. That's the point.

(until the government figures out how to use it for assassinations of course)

Air rights and flight lanes are certainly a thing and seems like something that can be worked out and probably shouldn't be a showstopper. But one thing we are referring to is the demonstrably irrational group-think like increasing air travel security in ways that cause far more deaths on the roads. In this case it is the prior restraint based on the assumption that this is somehow highly dangerous when in fact it is astonishingly internalized, especially in relative comparison. Nothing could stand up to an a priori standard of perfection.

Well, at least New Zealand inventors do not seem to have pursued this truly jet powered idea much futher since 2003 -

'An inventor from New Zealand who is building a cruise missile in his garage using parts bought over the internet has said you don't have to be a rocket scientist to construct your very own rocket.
Bruce Simpson says he is planning to post step-by-step instructions on his website describing how to make the jet-powered missile, which he claims would be able to fly the 60 miles (100 kilometres) between his home and Auckland in less than 15 minutes, the New Zealand Herald newspaper has reported. The missile could carry a small warhead weighing 22lbs, and Mr Simpson claimed the air force would have no way of stopping it.'

I (well, I use that word loosely) could produce a V-1 facsimile by the afternoon. I'm now going to read your link to confirm that's what they are talking about.

Yup. In fact it looks like the exact same guy whose video I watched YESTERDAY.

Although this particular project seems to focus on the GPS which appears almost trivial.

Here's another fascinating video by the guy on electrochemical etching in the garage.

He didn't invent the democratization of destruction, he's just letting you know it's a trivial exercise. But it's far less destructive than governments "losing" surface to air missiles by the thousands.

'But it’s far less destructive than governments “losing” surface to air missiles by the thousands.'

You know, this is one of the very few times where 'loosing' is exactly correct, at least in terms of damage. Since, at least till now, those 'lost' missiles seem to have wrought remarkably little damage, especially in the hands of militants that would have all the incentive in the world to use them in a major regional conflict to counteract one of the Syrian government's largest advantages.

And though I hesitate to ask, who has 'lost' thousands of SAMs from their inventory? Libya? The fact that this was reported by a government you profess to distrust extensively is not very conclusive. And I assume that the Russians supply weaponry much like the U.S. does - with components that quickly degrade without resupply. For example, see the experience of Stingers, Afghanis, and 'batteries' - a discussion is found here

Okay, I'll try it this way, the guy who is doing great work (again it is kind of weird I knew the exact guy you were linking to isn't it? but that just flies by your radar screen) is showing that it's now trivial to make a V-1 rocket with a rudimentary guidance system- something governments used to murder citizens 70 years ago.

In fact, in response to Finch also, you can completely do away with the GPS by shoving it up an Al Qaeda's ass and noone is scared of this.

Maybe his work is ongoing since...

"Development work is continuing on this new engine, with early results so promising that it is now partially funded by a $30,000 technology grant made available by the New Zealand government."

There are light helos for for sale, brand new, that go for 40,000 and do 100 mph+. And you get to sit down.

How big an area do you need to land one? Having small, shrouded rotors might let you takeoff and land in a much smaller area. Presumably it has different handling characteristics and is a different experience, what with your face in the wind and not sitting inside a canopy hanging under a big rotor.

Not that I take this very seriously, but it's somewhat different from a helicopter. jetpack:motorcycle as helicopter:car.

It might be different, but it is different like hand-milking a cow and picking up a gallon from the store is. Sure, the experience is cool to do once, but pointless in all day to day practical purposes.

I know people who commute via motorcycle despite vastly safer and more comfortable alternatives being available.

A light helo probably also takes up more space in your garage.
And I suspect the jet pack would be more vertaile for navigating in tight spots. For instance, I doubt your company would let you land one on the sidewalk in front of the doors. Whereas a jetpack, you just land and carry it up and stash it under your desk.

Not even close.

Compare the Martin "jetpack" to Mosquito XET. The helo wins in every catergory. Which one would you take to work?

The Martin "jetpack" won't fit under your desk. It would fit in your garage easier, but a folding rotor head would also be fairly compact.

The Martin "jetpack" can't just land anywhere either. Althought the ducted approach is safer when flying around people, the space needed to avoid blowing gravel into people's cars will remain a problem. The final dimensions for having a useable LZ will be the same.

There seems to be a lot of belief in the shrouds making a significant difference. While ducted fans have advantages, the very basic requirement doesn't change. Air has to be moved to create lift. The ducted fans don't get some free pass to move less air.

Aviation is really one ratio. Thrust/weight. Adding shrouds is helpful in ground effect hovering, and pretty much sucks everywhere else. The added weight is just not helping. Ducted fans also have a problem with stalling at high angles of attack and are notoriously poor at cruise speeds.

The are points in a flight envelope where a ducted fan approches twice the effiecency of a normal prop. However a regular prop has better overall performance.

A true jet pack using vectored thrust to allow VTOL would have to land on special landing pads to due to heat issues.

I think everybody in aviation wants a personal "air motorcycle". The Martin approach is cool, but it isn't anything more than a vanity project.

Weak regulation?

"One time, my youngest son, William, was in trouble at school and the teacher said he's got this vivid fantasy life because he believes you have a jetpack in your garage at home," Mr. Martin says. "We had to get the teacher to sign a nondisclosure agreement."

In the US, the correct response would be either a polite version of F off, or if you were feeling helpful you'd say "teach, y'er doing it wrong." (for those who don't get it, teachers should not link trouble in any way with the creativity they should be promoting rather than their status quo bias even if parents don't REALLY have jetpacks in their garage).

I think you mean: "In the US the teacher would have reported the parents to Homeland Security, who would have raided the family, shot their dog and taken the parents off to jail in an attempt to cover up their mistake."

“If you land in someone’s paddock, you will always land on their prime sheep”

This is going on my list of pithy aphorisms.

This is brilliant! I sure hope that it doesn't get squashed by regulation.

Can you imagine being late for work and being able to strap on your jet pack and fly straight there? Not to mention getting around to lunch meetings all over town.

No more traffic congestion. Plus 50 mph isn't so crazy that people couldn't figure out rule for how to avoid crashing into eachother. I don't see how this is any more dangerous than driving on the highway. Probably less so since you have more maneuvering room. You can go up or down, not just left or right.

And $150,000 ain't cheap, but it is compared to a private jet. I could see this becoming a utility for people in the $250,000 up income range.

Unfortunately it won't be economically significant. We can all offer our theories why. I can sum mine up by saying that it needs to be just like a car in almost every way except that it flies. But what that also means is that the 50 mph limit is in the ballpark as that makes it a moderate improvement door-to-door as the crow flies.

Somewhat ironically, forcing them into "driving lanes" would make them more dangerous and more likely to crash into peoples' prime sheep.

This device is not useful as a recreational vehicle. It's a death trap. There have been a number of these ducted fan single-person lift devices planned or developed in the past, and they all suffer from a major flaw: They have no passive descent ability in case of equipment failure.

If a helicopter loses an engine, it can auto-rotate to the ground using the inertia in the rotor blades. An airplane that loses its engine can glide to a landing. If a ducted fan lifting device loses its engine or throws a fan blade or sucks a bird or some other junk into a fan, the thing falls out of the sky like a brick, while perhaps shaking itself and the pilot to pieces.

The last device like this that failed to reach market planned to use a ballistic parachute to overcome this problem. Unfortunately, however, these devices are invariably going to spend most of their time within a few hundred feet of the ground where a ballistic parachute is useless.

Compounding the problem is that these devices are often at the extreme end of engine and lift technology, and are forced to use lightweight engines and operate them continuously at extreme power levels which makes them even more likely to fail.

This may have use for specific activities that require short lifts over terrain. Law enforcement, military, or rescue type operations. But even there I suspect it's impractical and too dangerous.

So no, this isn't a sign that the great stagnation has ended in New Zealand.

If you want to see a sign that the great stagnation is over (or never happened), you just need to look at the amazing progress that is being made in communications, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, genetics, etc. We are near tipping points in several industries that could cause fundamental economic transformations. And it's happening right here in North America.

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