Jet Packs: From Science Fiction to Search and Rescue

In 1965, in the James Bond film Thunderball, Sean Connery kills two SPECTRE agents, then escapes by flying away strapped to a jet pack. The action sequence wasn’t done with wires or green screens. Jet packs actually existed, even way back then.

The jet pack was actually a Bell rocket belt. It weighed 57kg and could fly just 22 seconds, which is why the army, for whom it was originally designed, never adopted it. Curiously, its fuel was the well-known antiseptic, hydrogen peroxide.

The clip made a tremendous impression at the time, because no one had ever seen anything like it before. Dreamers wondered if everyone would soon be zipping to work or flying up mountains in jet packs.


In the half-century since then, jet packs never quite went away but never broke into the mainstream, either. They’ve remained an expensive curiosity. You can buy one, if you have a spare quarter or half a million dollars.

A UK company named Gravity is marketing the latest iteration. Here, they demonstrate its potential as a search-and-rescue tool:

The device can fly for up to 10 minutes, carrying 40 litres of jet fuel and burning four litres a minute — better than 007’s model but not exactly enough to let us bomb freely around like Iron Man. And although the technician in the above video maneuvers effortlessly, learning to fly is not easy, as the two videos below demonstrate.

In the first, we see Gravity inventor Richard Browning and others attempt to master takeoff. They wear a helmet for good reason!


Finally, a man bought one for $440,000 and flew from the U.S. to England to pick up his prize. But first, he had to learn how to fly it:

If the learning curve doesn’t deter you and the prospect of this sort of flying powers your imagination, a school in California offers two days of flying lessons with a jet pack for a mere $5,000. Lunch is included.

Consider this, however: Sean Connery did not actually fly the jet pack in the film. He left it to the stunt men.