It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a…!
I always thought the coolest superheroes were the ones who could fly. Sure it would be great to have super strength, a great sidekick, “spider senses”, and great gadgets like magic lassos and power rings. But to take flight? To be grounded and then not? Amazing. And the lure of solo flight is not just appealing to those fighting the forces of evil. There are plenty of practical implications of solo flight as well. Imagine being on one side of town, when all of sudden you realized you left your wallet at home. You simply fetch your jetpack, press a few buttons and off you go, arriving in a mere fraction of the time it would take if you had traveled by car.
The fascination with solo flight is not a new one. The ancient Greeks told the story of Icarus, who, fascinated with his ability to fly, flew too close to the sun and burned his wings, sending him plummeting to his death.
You would think the legend of Icarus would have acted as a deterrent for men seeking the thrill of individual flight, but it seems to have had the opposite effect.
The pursuit continued with the hot air balloon flights of the Montgolfier Brothers in France during the 18th Century. And then of course, a little over a century later, to the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. Why is it that air pioneers tend to be brothers?
Soon, transcontinental flight became a reality. But we weren’t satisfied. Inspired perhaps by the Buck Rogers radio serials of the 1930s man began to fantasy about flight that was less encumbered. True freedom of flight would come only when man could fly by himself and be forced to adhere to the schedule of an airline.
Aided and abetted by the United States government during the Cold War, personalized jet packs began appearing. The main player in this era was a company called Bell Aerosystems. Bell undoubtedly was of great assistance to the military but many of the jet packs they made available to the public were clunky and impractical. Some were just plain odd looking.
The jetpacks got a bump in the hipness factor, however, when super-cool Sean Connery donned a jet pack in his 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball. Television viewers of the first Super Bowl in 1967 saw a man take flight from the 50-yard line.
Whether it was due to cost or safety issues the jet pack never caught on. The enthusiasm for individual flight hasn’t waned. A company called Jet Pack International seems to have picked up where Bell Aerosystems left off, releasing a modified Jet Back in 2004.
In 2008, a former fighter pilot named Yves Rossy took the idea of individual flight several steps further. He attached carbon wings–fueled by four jet engines—to his back and took flight across the English Channel reaching a top speed of 186 mph. Not only was Rossy’s invention effective, it was stylish too.
The dream of solo flight continues to fascinate. And why not? The terrestrial view of the world can become mundane and who wouldn’t want to lift off every once in a while for a change of scenery. Sure, you have to dodge other winged creatures, and be careful not to gaze too long at sunbathers or you could find yourself tangled in a telephone wire. But, it’s all small price to pay for feeling the wind in your hair and dancing among the clouds.