Give Now  »

Noon Edition

I'm Ready For My Jetpack!

A computer-generated image of what future jetpack flight might look like. (Anthony Appleyard, Wikimedia Commons)

Planes, trains, and automobiles: these modes of transportation are old news. Me, I‘m ready to get my own jetpack and soar into the sky. And, in fact, it turns out that jetpacks that can work on Earth do actually exist!

So why hasn‘t everyone ditched their cars for personal flying machines? In popular imagination, a jetpack is pretty straightforward. It straps to your shoulders like a backpack and boosts you into the air. Easy, right?

Your Body Ruins Everything!

Unfortunately, simple physics gets in the way. The human body is an ungainly, heavy thing, and unlike an airplane, we don‘t make lift as we move through the air.

Airplanes work by the double power of their engines and wings: the jet engines thrust the plane forward, but it‘s the wings that create lift, allowing the plane to get off the ground. Without aerodynamics on our side, humans have to rely solely on the thrust of the jetpack‘s engines to provide lift and get us airborne.

This leads to the problem of weight. Creating enough thrust to counter the pull of gravity requires a lot of fuel, which makes the jetpack heavier, which means it requires more fuel, and so on.

Hydrogen Peroxide Fuel

Jetpack flights often require a whopping seven gallons of hydrogen peroxide fuel, adding weight and taking up serious space. Once a flight starts, that hydrogen peroxide reacts with a silver catalyst to shoot you into the air, creating steam at a temperature of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The result of all of this is that today‘s jetpacks are pretty heavy, usually only fly for 30 seconds, and are pretty dangerous. For now, at least, this means that jetpacks aren‘t much more than science fiction.

Sources And Further Reading:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science