On May 3rd, Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, nicknamed “Rocketman”, successfully flew his winged jetpack over Rio de Janeiro for 11 minutes. Since the turn of the 20th century, the jetpack has been a fixture of science fiction, capturing the imaginations of the young, old, and insane. The Daily Sprat documents the progress of the jetpack since its earliest conception.
Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians longed to reach into the heavens and triumphantly punch the testicles of their merciless deities, who had consistently trodden upon their subjects lives with floods, plagues, and pesky slave revolts. Hieroglyphics of Jewish slaves strapped to chairs on top of clay pots filled with petroleum and flax seed suggest a testing phase for various launching mechanisms.
Not until the rise of the Roman Empire did the jetpack concept transition from a means to send Semites into the stratosphere to a device with military applications. Apollodorus, the Greek engineer, invented a rudimentary “flight satchel”, described as “a sack of strong hide, filled with bitumen, quicklime, and the blood of a prepubescent slave, to be worn round the waist of a fortuitous legionary.” The first legionary to test it was incinerated.
Academics concede that Chinese alchemists were the first to create large craters out of human beings with the formulation of gunpowder in the 9th Century. By the 13th Century, gunpowder progressed from fireworks to high-efficiency bone-and-sinew-separating devices of death. Out of the pile of limbs came the “Dragon’s Throne”, considered the first manned rocket and possible precursor to the kamikaze pilots of World War II.
Designed by gunpowder enthusiast Jiao Yu— who is quoted to say “all that is whole, in truth, wishes silently to be blown into tiny bits”—the “Dragon’s Throne” was a gunpowder-filled iron bell upon which a soldier would sit with spear at the ready, aimed at the enemies’ fortifications, awaiting to die honorably as a splatter mark on the stone wall.
Jiao Yu would later remark that he probably didn’t need to man the rockets, though it added a nice element of heroic tragedy to the drama of battle.
The prolific painter, engineer, and proto-mad scientist Leonardo da Vinci had drawn up conceptions for the tank, the helicopter, and—as any evil genius would—the personal rocket pack, the culmination of da Vinci’s obsession with flight and steam power.
Like many of da Vinci’s inventions, his initial concept was strikingly similar in aesthetic design as its modern counterpart. Da Vinci’s rig relied on steam pressure build-up in a charcoal-heated copper boiler. A trigger would release the pressure, the subsequent force launching the wearer into the sky.
Under the assumption that the test subject would remain stuck in the sky, a re-entry contingency was never planned and the test subject plummeted into the Dome of Santa Maria. To his patron Lorenzo de Medici, da Vinci said, “How could I have known? I’m a Florentine polymath, not Sir Isaac Newton.”
The Third Reich
Originally intended to aid German engineer units in World War II in crossing minefields and other obstacles, the Nazi-developed pulse-jet jump pack was eventually used in a program for infantry, dubbed Himmelstürmer (“Sky Stormer”). In the initial experiments, calculated jumps could be made up to 60 metres at 15 metre altitudes.
The first volunteer squad of Sky Stormers had so much fun frolicking about in their jetpacks, the combination of adrenaline and jet fume-induced euphoria led to the entire squad of gleefully bounding storm troopers deserting the Wehrmacht for the Eastern Alps on a spiritual quest of self-discovery. They were never heard from again, nor were the rockets recovered.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the most well known functioning jetpack device, the Rocketbelt, was put to use in the name of peace by pop-sensation Michael Jackson, during his 1992 Dangerous World Tour, from which all profits went to charity.
Michael Jackson would later use the jetpack to round-up “lost” children and whisk them away to the Neverland Ranch in true Peter Pan fashion, minus the free will.
The Future of the Jetpack
The flights of Yves Rossy and his winged jetpack reveal the possibilities of the jetpack as personal transport. Though still experimental, technological progress may soon make sustained jetpack flight a possibility.
What will the future hold for the jetpack? Not unlike the science fiction of the early 20th Century, only our imaginations will limit the possibilities.
Unless you’re poor. These things don’t come cheap. Seriously, one-percenters only.
M. Scott Caldwell is The Daily Sprat’s chief historian and has recently written The Complete History of the Bic Pen, which has already been recognized by academia as the definitive history of the ballpoint and the gold standard of historical writing on stationary.