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The Quest for the Ultimate Individual Lift Device

by Steve Lehto

Pub Date: May 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61374-430-7
Publisher: Chicago Review

A sapid look into the historically futile attempts to develop a gravity-defying, single-person flying machine.

Personal air flight, independent from conventional planes and unwieldy hot air balloons, has been pondered by hopeful inventors for centuries, writes Lehto (Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation, 2010, etc.). Challenged by the heretofore impossibility of achieving lasting stability while airborne, a great many scientists, inventors and hopeful aeronautical specialists have tried and been mostly unsuccessful. The author applauds many of these creative efforts while charting the jet pack’s fascinating evolution. The experimental designs and concepts are legion and include 1940s military engineer Charles Zimmerman’s propellered “flying shoes,” a device that opened the floodgates for more progressive ideas like Stanley Hiller Jr.’s kinesthetic twin-engine–powered platform and aircraft engineer Wendell Moore’s innovative, hydrogen peroxide–fueled rocket belt backpack. All saw their dreams rise and eventually plummet, some with tragic outcomes. Tweaked innovations on Moore’s concept continued for decades, with each milestone, from pump hoses to overhead airscrews, improving on the prototype before it, yet issues with safety and flight duration stifled progress. Grounded with an academic tone, Lehto’s chapters are rife with technical processes and jargoned commentary wisely tempered with graphic illustrations and photographs, which comprehensively chronicle the unique and choppy legacy of jet-propulsion devices. Though drier than Mac Montandon’s Jetpack Dreams (2008), Lehto’s approach should appeal to armchair inventors and basement tinkerers.

While personal-flight prototypes edge from pipe dream to purchase order, this well-documented history provides a satisfying substitution.