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Spy in the sky
In the memorable opening sequence from the 1965 James Bond thriller Thunderball, the suave superspy escapes danger with a rocket backpack, glibly commenting, "No well-dressed man should be without one." Now, for roughly $100,000, you can have your very own 007-caliber flying machine.
California-based Thunderbolt Aerosystems is releasing its Thunderpack personal propulsion system, and according to company president Carmelo Amarena, the device represents a 21st century upgrade on the 1960s technology. A hydrogen peroxide and kerosene mixture powers the Thunderpack's rocket motor, providing up to 75 seconds of flight time and taking the operator as high as 2,000 feet. The Thunderpack has two consumables that must be replenished before each flight-the fuel and the nitrogen gas that pushes it through the system. Recharging the device takes about half an hour and requires either bottled nitrogen or a nitrogen generator and compressor, which costs another $10,000, plus another $500 of fuel per flight. Mastering the Thunderpack's kinesthetic control requires a rigorous training program, involving a week's worth of tethered test flights.
While the company said it has already received four orders for the Thunderpack, Amarena considers this model only a stepping stone in the evolution of a personal jetpack. Coming next, he said, will be a device with a half-hour range and 7,000-foot ceiling that will use miniature engines produced by a company that supplies powerplants for military drones. Amarena hopes to secure funding for the new design within a year and said production would begin soon after. "I have customers who would buy it right now if it were available," he added.