A breezy niche history of a staple of pulp adventures.
Mid-20th-century science-fiction fans took for granted that another 50 years would bring a cure for cancer, interplanetary travel, world government and practical jetpacks. Many of us regret the absence of the first three, but journalist Montandon discovered that the failure to develop the last intensely upsets a minority of technically savvy men (but almost no women). They take iPods, cell phones and wireless Internet for granted, but the absence of a useful jetpack provokes the yearning question: “Why aren’t we living in the future?” The author delivers a quick history of the jetpack from its 1928 debut in a Buck Rogers story through the work of a passionate engineer at Bell Aircraft, Wendell Moore, whose rocket-powered backpack flew in 1961. Most readers will be surprised to learn that it worked, and similar devices still fly, though mostly in action films, air shows and special events such as the opening ceremony at the 1984 Olympics. Anyone with $250,000 can buy one, but flying today’s jetpack requires great skill. The rocket fires for less than one minute, and no source of substantial money is interested in the massive research required to perfect it. Nonetheless, a surprising number of aficionados are building their own, holding conventions and communicating online. Montandon criss-crosses America with a sidetrip to Mexico, tracking down a surprising number of enthusiasts to observe their work and record their problems—technical, financial and personal.
Since nearly everyone agrees that we will not see a safe, useful jetpack during our lifetime, readers should not expect shocking revelations. Still, Montandan offers an amusing collection of stories about individuals of varying degrees of eccentricity who are devoting much of their lives and personal fortunes to a near-impossible dream.