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Rocket Men 150

Posted by Zonk
from the excellent-reason-to-go-into-traction dept.
theodp writes "Slate reports on the guys who really, really want to fly, who got together the other week at the Niagara Aerospace Museum for the First International Rocketbelt Convention. To date, only 11 men in history have free-flown a rocketbelt (aka JetPack). More men have walked on the moon. Why? 'It's not a matter of if you get hurt, it's when,' says Eric Scott, an ex-stuntman who's in the exclusive club."
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Rocket Men

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Linux needs to get its act together

    Linux is *not* user friendly, and until it is linux will stay with >1% marketshare.

    Take installation. Linux zealots are now saying "oh installing is so easy, just do apt-get install package or emerge package": Yes, because typing in "apt-get" or "emerge" makes so much more sense to new users than double-clicking an icon that says "setup".

    Linux zealots are far too forgiving when judging the difficultly of Linux configuration issues and far too harsh when judging the diff
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by WilliamSChips (793741)
      You do realize that the "Quake 3" thing hasn't been remotely accurate for years, right?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Solra Bizna (716281)
      ... until it is linux will stay with >1% marketshare.

      Wait, remind me why that's a bad thing?

      Or did you mean '<'? ;)

      -:sigma.SB

  • No smoking (Score:1, Funny)

    by Krytical (1010695)
    Looks like you can't fly and smoke.
  • by creimer (824291) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @07:58PM (#16358955) Homepage
    Whatever happened the jet pack technology that NASA was working on back in the 1970's? Saw it on the "Six Million Dollar Man" TV show.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Fullhazard (985772)
      They figured out that something that's expensive, dangerous, incredibly loud, only provides 30 seconds of thrust at best, and weighs about 100 pounds isn't a very good military tool. Go figure, right?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:06PM (#16359017)
    These people need computer-controlled gyroscopic stabilizers. A fly-by-wire system could dramatically improve the safety of rocketbelts. No doubt that would make them much more popular.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kimvette (919543)
      That is not the only problem; other problems include fuel capacity (range) and thermal management. I would love, repeat, LOVE to fly one of those, but a homebuilt high-performance jet aircraft (like Viperjet) or even someday a homebuilt spacecraft would be more fun, IMHO.
    • by evanbd (210358) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:39PM (#16359197)
      And while we're at it, that's a *hell* of a lot easier said than done. You can't do it on cheap gyros (read: you're probably spending $5-10k per axis), and they're not particularly light weight (a couple pounds each may not seem like much, but it eats into your fuel budget quite quickly). And you need a *good* control program, which isn't easy to write. Getting it mostly right wouldn't be too hard, but would you trust your safety to "mostly right"? To date, only one VTVL rocket vehicle has demonstrated fully autonomous takeoff, hover, and landing (John Carmack's vehicle over at Armadillo Aerospace). It ain't easy.

      Also, don't forget you have to build the rocket motors and feed system and such. Most belts so far are peroxide monopropellants -- a good choice IMHO, but peroxide is hard to get and takes a lot of care to handle safely. And building any size rocket motor and ensuring it's safe enough to stand next to is a bit of work.

      What I'm saying is, if you're a single amateur, or a small group, then building just the rockets is a big project unto itself. It shouldn't surprise you that no one has the time, money, and skills to do that, *plus* build and test the IMU, *plus* write fly-by-wire control software for it. If a modest sized startup company decided to pursue the matter, with a bit of financial backing, I would expect they could get it all built without too much hassle (provided they had the appropriate expertise in all areas, obviously). Oh, and don't forget that your software has to handle a non-fixed CG if the person moves about much at all.

      • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Sunday October 08, 2006 @09:26PM (#16359459) Journal
        You can't do it on cheap gyros (read: you're probably spending $5-10k per axis),

        Why not? There are gyros that model helicopters use that are cheaper than $100, and an RC chopper is a whole lot twitchier than something with the mass of a human being in it. If your flight only lasts for a couple of minutes, then you hardly need high-precision gyros that won't drift more than a degree per hour.

        -jcr
        • by evanbd (210358) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @10:11PM (#16359657)
          Hmm. I don't know how good those gyros are; I was of the impression that there wasn't really a whole lot between the cheap sensor grade stuff and the good navigation grade fiber optic ones. Also, AIUI the differences aren't just in drift rate, but also in things like vibration sensitivity and cross-axis coupling.

          I suppose you could use the inexpensive ones, as long as your goal was to change the pilot requirement from "top of the line test pilot" to "very good helicopter pilot," and not an attempt to make it flyable by anyone with a bit of simulator practice.

          You might do an ok job if the gyros just tried to hold the spin *rate* to zero, and let the pilot handle leveling the vehicle; one fewer integral makes for much slower error growth.

          • by jcr (53032)
            I suppose you could use the inexpensive ones, as long as your goal was to change the pilot requirement from "top of the line test pilot" to "very good helicopter pilot," and not an attempt to make it flyable by anyone with a bit of simulator practice.

            This doesn't make any sense. If you've got attitude sensors and the means to alter the attitude through computer control of thrust, it's a programming problem.

            College classes routinely build autonomous helicopters, so you can obviously reduce the "piloting" to
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by e2d2 (115622)
              This is true, gyros are used to control autonomous vehicles in 3d spaces, specifically using IMUs with multiple gyros on flying vehicles. I'm working on one myself and it's taken years of effort so far, there is a small community of UAV builders that all work to achieve the same goals. So it is possible.

              But I wanted to point out that the parent brought up a good point about accuracy. The simple fact is you can't get around the inherent error in such sensors over time. For example, if we have one gyro just m
      • To date, only one VTVL rocket vehicle has demonstrated fully autonomous takeoff, hover, and landing (John Carmack's vehicle over at Armadillo Aerospace).
        What about the DC-XA [nasa.gov]? Was that not fully autonomous?
        • by evanbd (210358)
          I don't have a good refernce handy, but I believe the answer is no. I've heard my original comment made by people in the industry who were well aware of the DC-XA, so I'm inclined to believe it's true, but I don't know enough about it to give an authoritative answer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by wjsteele (255130)

        To date, only one VTVL rocket vehicle has demonstrated fully autonomous takeoff, hover, and landing (John Carmack's vehicle over at Armadillo Aerospace).

        I'm not sure they've actually conducted a fullly autonomous test. According to their web site [armadilloaerospace.com], they've only done very limited tethered tests.

        However, I know the Delta Clipper [nasa.gov] (DC-X) and it's follow on (DC-XA) had several sucuessful tests, fully autonomous. But even they had a bunch of development issues that eventually lead to the programs cancellati

        • by jdray (645332)

          I'm not sure they've actually conducted a fullly autonomous test. According to their web site, they've only done very limited tethered tests.

          Actually, this post from almost 2 1/2 years ago (June 15, 2004), has a video with one of the more amazing technology demonstrations I've seen in rocketry ever. AIUI, the entire flight shown is autonomous from the time of liftoff to the time of landing. The engine warmup was done manually, but the flight was all done by computer.

          ...snip...

          The flight parameters were

    • by oohshiny (998054)
      You don't need stabilizing gyros, just decent control of the individual nozzles and gyroscopic sensors. think "Segway": it doesn't stabilize with gyros, it stabilizes with electronic control.
    • by nurb432 (527695)
      Too much weight.

      The are already at the edge of useablity, tack on a few more pounds and you either dont get off the ground at all, or reduce your 20 second flight even more.
  • Duff Man! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315)
    Theres a guy who flies these jetpacks called the GoFast Rocketman [gofastsports.com].
    hes sponsored by the Go Fast Sports and Beverage Co.

    I wonder if he can do the pelvic thrust and Heuuugh?

    The link I pointed to contains a movie of him in action (and other stuff).
    • by 8ball629 (963244)
      If you were to follow the link given in the article, you would see an even better video (more informative and clearer) and its the same guy.
  • rocket "belt" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:20PM (#16359097) Homepage
    Why is it called a rocket "Belt", when it's typically something the size of a surfboard with a pair of propane tanks that you strap on your back?
    • by kimvette (919543)
      Because it's strapped (belted, if you will) to your back, of course.

      It seems to me you have to concentrate so much on remaining upright that you would working too hard to have fun and actually enjoy a flight.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hangin10 (704729)
        This part of it I don't understand. I can understand being strapped to it, but why should the human have to support it? Why not have "_|"-shaped (excuse the ASCII-art excursion) bars under the arms and up over the chest/shoulder area with the human ON the device (like a flying Segway, just not quite so white and nerdy). This probably changes the whole concept, but I'd rather get into what I described rather than strap a rocket to my back. Strapping a rocket to one's back seems rather ill-advised in a rather
    • by JonathanR (852748)
      Because these people want to live under the delusion that their technology exhibits the correlation with a helicopter, as a pair of joggers does with a Ford Expedition.
    • by garcia (6573) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:35PM (#16359179)
      Why is it called a rocket "Belt", when it's typically something the size of a surfboard with a pair of propane tanks that you strap on your back?
      --
      #11. No pirate shall ever wear a "fanny pack".


      Well, I think your .sig has answered that for us!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by westlake (615356)
      Why is it called a rocket "Belt", when it's typically something the size of a surfboard with a pair of propane tanks that you strap on your back?

      The rocket belt made its first appearance in comic strips like Flash Gordon around 1934. It is everyone's evokes dream of someday flying like a bird, without the need for magic.

    • by buswolley (591500)
      A belt implicitly implies that you wear IT. Not the other way around.
  • I for one welcome our new rocketman overlords!

    Can you imagine a beowulf cluster of rocketbelts?

    I'm going to build my own rocketbelt. With blackjack. And hookers!

    In Soviet Russia, the rocketbelt flies you!
  • by Brad1138 (590148) <brad1138@yahoo.com> on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:34PM (#16359165)
    To date, only 11 men in history have free-flown a rocketbelt (aka JetPack)

    Make that 12, your forgetting Duke Nukem.
    • "To date, only 11 men in history have free-flown a rocketbelt (aka JetPack)"
      "Make that 12, your forgetting Duke Nukem."

      I'm pretty sure Duke Nukem is a woman. I once saw Duke Nukem peeing sitting down.
  • I'm sure they're available. Well, two of them anyway. When using a rocket belt always make sure there's not a solid brick archway above your head. http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com/articles/cont ent/a3033/index-9.html/ [television...utpity.com]
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:52PM (#16359263) Homepage
    It's understandable that in 1961 the pilot needed to fly the rocket belt with only his own reflexes and semicircular canals to guide him.

    But even in the late 1960s my aero-and-astro student colleagues told me that even the Boeing 727 was too unstable to be controlled by a human pilot using reflexes alone: it relied on "yaw dampers," servo mechanisms that amounted to electronic analog computers, to tame the raw behavior of the plane.

    The Boeing 777 is a completely "fly-by-wire" design.

    It seems to me that it ought to be possible to design microprocessor-controlled rocket belts that would be much easier and safer to fly than those of the 1960s. (Including, of course, electronic active noise cancellation in the helmet to provide at least some reduction of the "deafening noise 3 feet three feet from his ear."

    Trying to fly the rocket belts described in the strikes me as rather like trying to fly a full-size, exact model of Langley's Aerodrome. It may be possible--for someone with the reflexes of a Santos-Dumont and the nerves of an Evel Knievel--but it's still just a stunt. The Wright Brothers achievement was ''not'' building an aeroplane that could get off the ground; it was building an aeroplane that they ''and others'' could get (relatively!) ''safely'' off the ground.
    • by Deadstick (535032)
      It seems to me that it ought to be possible to design microprocessor-controlled rocket belts that would be much easier and safer to fly than those of the 1960s.

      OK, now the next problem is to find a fuel light enough that you can stand up and walk around with more than 20 seconds' worth hanging on your back.

      rj

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jcr (53032)
        the next problem is to find a fuel light enough that you can stand up and walk around with more than 20 seconds' worth hanging on your back.

        Got it: It's called "gasoline".

        How you get a significant amount of its stored energy released in a useful way by a rocket motor is left as an exercise for the reader.

        -jcr

      • Now that Smith solved the first problem, I think I can solve the second. Or, to be precise, I can point to someone who has already solved it. The Scaled Composites hybrid engine used in spaceshipone offers better thrust/weight ratio than peroxide or propane, it can be made quite small, and it is throttleable.

        Ok, what's the third problem?
        • by jcr (53032)
          Ok, what's the third problem?

          Refueling it, probably. Those hybrid solid-fuel/liquid-oxidizer engines are fine for a single burn, but a tad time-consuming to reload.

          -jcr
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      The Wright Brothers achievement was ''not'' building an aeroplane that could get off the ground; it was building an aeroplane that they ''and others'' could get (relatively!) ''safely'' off the ground.

      What? Their first airplanes were insanely unstable. It was harder to control than a F/A-22 now, except the F/A-22 has a powerful computer to keep it stable. It had next to no dihedral and its horizontal stabilizer was in front of the plane, while the vertical stab had next to no moment (so it was pretty use
    • by salec (791463)

      ncluding, of course, electronic active noise cancellation in the helmet to provide at least some reduction of the "deafening noise 3 feet three feet from his ear."

      I am not sure if active noise cancellation systems bode well with aperiodic noise sources. There is time lag involved in DSP and sound will not stand and wait. It travels 3 feet through air in ~3ms, and through rocketbelt frame even faster. Perhaps a passive solution, like i.e. aerogel helmets as well as shields or bells around nozzles reflecting

    • I always thought the worst danger was that you had less than 40 seconds of fuel. That's barely enough time to pick a safe landing spot. It's essentially a forced landing every time. Not safe.

      So, what do you do besides fly around a stadium for less than a minute before the device becomes dead weight? Well, that's dull, and useless except for advertising or Bond flicks.

      You have to land, somewhere appropriate before you run out of fuel. It shouldn't be hard, but then again, imagine a helicopter with the same c
      • by jdray (645332)
        This article [gizmag.com] talks about some Swiss guy that has figured out some fuel combination that will give more like six minutes of flight (something useful). Try as I might, I can't find any other info about him on the Net, even at what seems to be his own web site. I used the Wayback Machine to check, and they don't have any updated records on his site since... well... way back. I figure either a) it's a hoax, or b) he's on to something and wants to keep it under wraps so it doesn't get nabbed by someone before
  • What about women? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dan East (318230) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:54PM (#16359273) Homepage Journal
    To date, only 11 men in history have free-flown a rocketbelt (aka JetPack).

    According to the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org], at least one woman (Isabel Lozano [tecaeromex.com]) has flown one as well (happened almost a month ago).

    As to why haven't more people flown the device, take a look at Isabel's pictures, and you'll see that had to make a custom cast of her body for the mounting hardware the device uses. Also, for some reason many people may not feel very comfortable with jets of gas at 740 C venting at supersonic velocities mere inches from their body.

    Dan East
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Steve Newall (24926)
      While impressive, Isabel's flight was not "free-flown" and does not count towords the list.
    • for some reason many people may not feel very comfortable with jets of gas at 740 C venting at supersonic velocities mere inches from their body.
      That's why I never have the Super Burrito Special.
    • for some reason many people may not feel very comfortable with jets of gas at 740 C venting at supersonic velocities mere inches from their body

      Tell that to Taco Bell.

    • Also, for some reason many people may not feel very comfortable with jets of gas at 740 C venting at supersonic velocities mere inches from their body.

      You obvious don't load up your bean burritos with hot sauce.

    • Why ever not? We post to Slashdot, you'd think we'd be used to unstable blasts of hot air.
    • by jdray (645332)
      They may have used a plaster cast to fabricate the frame for the pack, but they didn't have to do it that way. Look at the construction of the other "rocket belts". The pads against the pilot's back look to be salvaged (at least by design) from trekking backpacks (no, not "Star Trek").
    • by gstoddart (321705)
      Also, for some reason many people may not feel very comfortable with jets of gas at 740 C venting at supersonic velocities mere inches from their body.

      must ... not ... make ... blue ... angels ... joke

      =)
  • On the Fringe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tb3 (313150) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @08:57PM (#16359299) Homepage
    The (strange/interesting/sad) part of this story is how far out the people involved are. I noticed there was no mention, either in the Slate article or the actual convention website, of these guys [rocketman.org] who claim to have the only functional rocket belt in existence. Then there's Juan Manuel Lozano, the Mexican inventor who claims to developed a break-through method for creating the 90%-pure hydrogen peroxide fuel needed for the rocket belt.

    And then there's the whole RB2000 saga, which involved fraud, murder, and the disappearance of the only prototype. The full story can be found on the rocketbelt.nl site. Rocketbelt developers are out there on the edges with the ufologists, perpetual motion researchers, and free energy salesman, with the exception that rocketbelts can actually work!
    • by Maximilio (969075)
      Rocketbelt developers are out there on the edges with the ufologists, perpetual motion researchers, and free energy salesman,

      I'd have to disagree there. Rocketbelt developers are in a completely different class of being than ufologists. Believing in something that's categorically silly and repeatedly fails the test of evidence is a whole different ballgame than doing something that's very difficult and dangerous.

  • This video describes a propulsion system used in some rocketbelts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnIihCSF9vE [youtube.com] Apparently high pressure hydrogen peroxide, is forced by high pressure nitrogen through a grill of silver (a catalyst to the breakdown of H2O2). This breakdown produces water and oxygen, and as any chemist will tell you, quite a lot of heat. The water (at this point high pressure steam) and oxygen of course have a much higher volume than the H2O2 and are therefore forced out of the direction thru
    • Wait... since when does breaking bonds release heat? I thought it was the other way around...
    • by Yazeran (313637)
      Well this propulsion system is not exactly new. I belive it was originally called the 'Walter cold rocket motor' in the 1930 in germany, and was used for providing energy for the turbopumps for the A4 rocket.

      In the case of the A4 rocket i think they used potassium permanganate, as this is even more reactive than silver when it comes to catalysing the peroxide to water and oxygen.

      Actually now when i think of it the same system was also used in the Redstone rockets of the 50's and 60 (which was basically just
  • If your anywhere in the Niagara region, definitly worth checking out one of the cradles on modern aviation and aerospace, Bell Aerospace that is. All pretty much featured at the mueseum and then some.
  • I found out recently that one of the 11 rocketmen will be at this year's X-Prize Cup [xprizecup.com] in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Here is another website [rocketman.org] with some interesting rocketman videos and info. Warning, a lot of the videos look like they are from the 80's... :^)
  • The Alternative? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by webword (82711) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @09:21PM (#16359427) Homepage
    Very light jets!

    2006: The year of the very light jet [ainonline.com]

    Very Light Jet Magazine [verylightjets.com]

    The Light Jet Age [cnn.com]

    OK, so they are a $1-2 million. That's a lot of money. From what I've read, however, these jet packs aren't that cheap either. (They're not mass produced so the price hasn't dropped at all.) If you bought part of a jet as a time share, with say 20-50 other people, the price drops significantly. It is a viable option for some people.
    • by GooberToo (74388)
      And maintaining a jet rating requires constant recurrency training. Operation of a jet is also very costly. So to even be in the position to fly a VLJ, you need lots of free time, lots of money, and your will in good order. This is not to say VLJs are dangerous...they are not. VLJ are dangerous to the low time, low skilled pilots to which they appeal.

      Anyone remember the "Doctor killer" planes fromm the 70's and 80's? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beechcraft_Bonanza [wikipedia.org]. Compared to a VLJ, Bo's are snails..
  • Take flying lessons [beapilot.com]. Really. It's a lot safer. If you're 16 years old [gpo.gov] and your instructor signs off, you can even fly solo [gpo.gov].
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday October 08, 2006 @11:03PM (#16359925) Journal
    To date, only 11 men in history have free-flown a rocket-pack

    I take it this excludes burrito dinner + sparks accidents?
         
  • It should really come as no suprise to anyone that these things aren't safe. The stabilization is completely manual and let's face it, you get the aim off, and you can be in real trouble. This is definitely something best flown over really soft, flat terrain.

    They also have a really short range. Something like several hundred feet, maybe 1000. Still, they're very cool to watch, and that in itself is the only reason it ever needed to be invented. They got some use on several TV shows back in the 70s and I see
    • by bfree (113420)
      I'm not sure if they flew in to a Superbowl or not, but I'm sure they did it an the 84 LA Olympics Opening Ceremony.
  • Segway-like control software might actually make these devices fairly safe.
  • ...start running and time each pace with the little beep you get in your ear.

    Well it worked for me every time in "Rocket Ranger" on my Amiga all those years ago....

  • Given that small TurboJet engines are commonly available for model aircraft these days, is it now feasible to build a TuboJet pack rather than a dangerous hydrogen peroxide rocket pack?

    The average weight of a man is about 190 pounds.

    BMV jets (http://www.bvmjets.com/) supply a turbojet that can provide 50lbs of Thrust.

    Turbine Thrust (lbs) Diameter Weight (lbs) Price JetCat P-200 50 5.12 5 $4,995.00

    With 2 banks of 3 JetCat P-200's strapped to your back you would have 300lb of Thrust to play with.
    • by VAXcat (674775)
      Not precisely a rocket belt, but the Williams Wasp used a cruise missile turbine engine to propel a single seat vehicle. Prototypes were flown, but it never went into production. I sure would have liked to have one...
  • Get out of the plane!
  • Are there really only 11 men who have flown rocket belts in free flight?

    I remember that they used to do Bell Rocket Belt demos on the road. I think Keds sneakers sponsored a tour in the 60's where the Keds Rocketman(?) would fly into baseball stadiums. If that was one guy he must have had quite the frequent flyer miles.

    There was also a rocket belt fly in and landing at the opening ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 [olympic.org]. I remember watching the behind the scenes documentary where the manager t

    • by VAXcat (674775)
      A mouthwash company had a rocket belt promotional tour. They did a flight at a site as small as the parking lot of a suburban Dallas shopping center parking lot (Farmer's Branch, for the interested), circa 1967. It was incredibly LOUD...
  • Everytime the subject of flying cars or similar comes up, someone always rolls out the argument, "If I can't deal with the idiots who are on the road now, I can't possibly imagine having those same idiots flying around above me."

    But people said similar things about the first automobiles. And about the first airplanes. And so on, and so forth. That's a social resistance to change that can be overcome.

    It seems to me that catastrophic failure in mid-flight is more an engineering challenge. Do you deploy pa
  • I'm thinking, if you combine this with BASE jumping, you'd have the ultimate thrill with ultimate danger!

You see but you do not observe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"

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