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Kiwi invented Jetpack reaches new heights

Published: 7:47PM Sunday May 29, 2011 Source: Sunday

Christchurch inventor Glenn Martin has finally turned science fiction into reality, with a contraption that's got the whole world talking.

Up until now his experimental Jetpack has only ever ground-hopped, but his flying machine has finally soared 5000 feet above sea level, albeit with a crash test dummy in the pilot's position.

Martin gave TV ONE's Sunday programme exclusive access to film the secret test flight made a few days ago over the Canterbury Plains.

"Now, this thing's sort of a tiger by the tail when you've got some of the largest companies in the world talking to us about wanting large numbers. You know, this could be a seriously large business," he says.

Martin has spent the past 30 years of his life committed to the project. It has cost $12 million in savings and venture capital to get to this point.

Last year, the Jetpac, which runs on ordinary petrol, was named in Time Magazine's 50 Best Inventions list, being described as the most anticipated invention of the year.

However this week's achievement is a far cry from earlier footage of the Jetpack bouncing just off the ground at the Oshkosh Air Show three years ago.

The launch in the United States was greeted with ridicule from industry professionals. However Martin told Sunday the disappointment only left him more determined.

"You know, you spend 28 years of your life developing something and I made no claims about it, I didn't say it was the best thing since sliced bread, I just wanted to go to Oshkosh and introduce it to the aviation world.

"And then all these people come in and start getting negative about it, you know, that was very hurtful."

For safety purposes, the test flight was piloted by remote control, with a weighted crash-test dummy, 'George Jetson' in the pilot's position.

Martin said the decision was a moral one.

"I can't put something out unless we've all done our best to make sure it's as safe as it possibly can be."

The Jetpack flew to 5000 feet, then down to about 2000 feet before firing a rocket-propelled parachute. From there it came safely aground.

The jetpack, which relies on two powerful "superfans", is attracting overseas interest, including from the US military and from Japanese authorities dealing with post earthquake damage.

"It's is a fun machine... but what we're discovering now, it's got a serious use as well.

"You can get into places you can't go, you can use it for search and rescue operations that you couldn't do in a helicopter."

Martin hopes that this week's developments will bring more investment and ultimately mass production.

"We certainly need to raise money.

"It's always been my personal vision that we would float on the sharemarket at some stage but as a company we haven't made that decision yet," he says.