Flying without Wings

It’s 2015. Weren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now? Or, at the very least, jetpacks?
The idea of flying like birds has been humanity’s dream since time immemorial. Airplanes are great and all, but being able to walk outside the morning, fire up a jetpack and zoom across the neighborhood is just so much cooler.

In the 1950s, Bell Aerosystems – the same company that’s been working with NASA on flying machines and rockets for more than half a century – set out to create a for-real jetpack, a belted device capable of lifting a person without wings.

“By the late 1950s, Wendell F. Moore of Bell Aerosystems, one of the great crew-cut, pocket-protected engineers at one of the great aviation companies of the postwar jet age, went to the drawing board and came back with the SRLD, the Small Rocket Lift Device, a Commando Cody-style backpack that could carry a single solider into battle,” notes a new article from Smithsonian Magazine.

Unfortunately, the weight of the fuel needed to lift an adult into the air for travel prohibited going farther than a few dozen feet, or the amount of ground that could be traversed in 20 to 30 seconds. Not a cross-country, or even cross-county, jaunt, and certainly not anything that could be truly helpful in a war zone.

Essentially useless but strikingly beautiful, the second jetpack ever built is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Air and Space Museum, in Chantilly, Va., a short drive from Washington, D.C.

“Recognizable by its polished fuel tanks and control arms, custom-machined valves and foil-wrapped exhaust nozzles, stainless hoses and fiberglass backboard, it looks like a hot-rod scuba rig,” the magazine says.

But there’s much more to the story, including an unsolved murder – just like a spy caper. To learn more, read the Smithsonian’s account here.

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