Why Jet Packs Won’t Work

  • This is a repost from one of my earlier blogs. I figured that since I already wrote it I can reuse it.

ITS FAIR TO SAY that jetpacks are one of the mainstays of science fiction technology. In countless movies and videogames we see characters take to the sky with little rocket packs on their back. Some are for short lived bursts like Starcraft 2’s Reapers, some allow for continuous low altitude flying such as Jango and Boba Fett’s jetpacks in Star Wars and some allow for high altitude flying like a jet, like the Rocketeer and in some ways Iron Man. Although portable jet packs seem like an awesome idea, truthfully they are not. (I am only looking at the traditional science fiction depiction of jetpacks. We’re not talking about those ducted fan prototypes. Those aren’t jetpacks. Those are like personal helicopter packs.)

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JET PACKS HAVE a few major engineering and safety drawbacks. Let’s address the engineering problems first. According to science fiction, jetpacks are usually some sort of rocket strapped to your back. One of the biggest problems for this type of machine is where to place the fuel. Let’s remember to get the Space Shuttle into space we need a fuel tank multiple stories tall. Now I know we aren’t lifting a Space Shuttle, but that gives you an idea of how much fuel rockets use, especially since all the fuel must be counted into the total weight of the rocket. You would need a massive and heavy fuel tank to get just you into the air. Even with jet engines, you still need a lot of fuel to get you into the air, to the point that you might as well just fly some sort of normal airplane. Current jetpack experimenters are using hydrogen peroxide packs that have a very limited range or are being dropped from airplanes in order to negate the need of taking off under ones own power. Now you may argue that its a sci-fi technology, so it should be advanced beyond our current technology. Fine, I’ll give you that, but now let’s look at the safety.
You after a fun jetpacking adventure

You after a fun jetpacking adventure

THE INHERENT DANGER of aerial flight never seems to end. Imagine all the things that can go wrong in an airplane. Now imagine that all these things go wrong when the only thing you have is a rocket strapped to your back. Doesn’t seem nice does it? The thing that makes airplanes safe is that they are huge vehicles. Airplanes can loose engines, take bird hits, get parts of their fuselage torn off and still glide back to an airfield. If any of those things go wrong when you are flying a jet pack, you will soon be plummeting to the ground, since your body isn’t very aerodynamic. And what about collisions with other jetpack flyers? They seem inevitable. Modern airliners fly in stacked patches of airspace, hundreds of miles apart on all directions, that’s why its so rare when an aerial collision occurs. But, with a bunch of low altitude jetpack pilots, hundreds of people are trying to fly at high velocity in congested pieces of airspace. Even if they are organized in a similar way as street cars, a jetpack fender bender doesn’t just raise your insurance claims, it sends you plummeting to your death below. You could try a parachute, but good luck activating it in time to arrest your fall from only a few hundred feet. By the way, even as you are floating to safety you should still watch out for other pilots. More mundane dangers also face our intrepid jetpack pilots. An obvious one is the jet of flame shooting down your back and legs. Unfortunately, the jetpack seems like a great way to be caught on fire. Even fire resistant clothing become super heated under that much fire and pressure. You could always put the jets on the side of you, but they would need to be a long distance away to keep the heat away, and then we start verging into aircraft territory. Another safety concern is things like birds and weather. Airplanes can handle both of these, as Captain Sully showed us in New York, but a jet pack pilot would be completely devastated by these two likelihoods. Birds pose a huge dangers if they contact a jetpack pilot. Birds can break through jet engines, so imagine what they could do to you at jetpack velocity. Add in the fact they tend to fly at low altitude (where you are going to be flying) and we get a huge danger. Also consider flying through rain, snow, sleet, hail and other weather conditions at flying velocity. It tends to get just a little dangerous.
This is the closest that we've come so far.

This is the closest that we’ve come so far. It is admittedly awesome, but he must be airdropped for his pack to work.

SOME SCIENTISTS HAVE worked on jetpacks in real life but unfortunately they all tend to be limited or ineffective, or more on the verge of airplanes than the actual jetpacks that we see in our beloved science fiction stories. Even if the engineering challenges could be met, the safety concerns will doom the jetpack to being nothing more than a novelty. Believe me, nobody is more disappointed then me, I would love to just strap on a jetpack and fly away, but unfortunately, this won’t be happening any time soon.
Sorry Boba Fett.
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