Earlier this year, a Canadian inventor caused a stir when he announced his company was taking orders for the world's first commercially-viable jetpack.
The water-powered Jetlev, invented by Raymond Li, offered the kind of thrill ride of that sci-fi fans have been waiting for. It allowed the pilot to stay airborne for two hours and came equipped with a 225 horsepower motor that generated speeds of up to 24 mph. But at a price tag that hovered around $100,000, you can almost hear the collective groan.
However, Bob Wilson, an inventor, decided not to take the news siting up, or for that matter, even standing up. He rounded up a series of random spare parts and pieced together his own water-powered aircraft called the "H20 Jet Pack."
"I said, 'Well, shoot, I'm going up to the farm in Idaho in August,'" Wilson told the Orange County Register. "'I'm going to build one out of muffler pipe.'"
Unlike the Jetlev, the H2O is a much simpler design, relying on the thrust generated by a watercraft connected to it.
The OC Register reports:
A key difference between the machines is Jetlev's use of a pilotless device that propels the rider and likely contributes significantly to a nearly six-figure price tag.
Wilson simply attached his jet pack to a tube that's hooked to a personal watercraft's exhaust; a pilot on the watercraft hits the throttle to power the jet pack, whose occupant then steers by pulling and pushing two handles.
"I'm not duplicating it," Wilson says of the Jetlev. "I'm making it better."
His initial efforts to be build a contraption that generated adequate lift and steering control without the Jetlev's high-tech gadgetry proved to be quit challenging. Previous prototypes consisted of a muffler pipe, a rubber swing seat, a $6 climbing harness and a jetski.
Early tests of the jetpack resulted in Wilson doing belly flops and almost drowning. In the process, there were blown-off hoses, broken welds and a near catastrophe when the device sank and had to be fished out from the bottom of the bay.
Since then, he's tinkered with various upgrades and most recently the jetpack was able to generate enough thrust to send pilots 30 feet in the air during trials at Huntington Beach. The 51-year-old Seal Beach native plans to switch to a more powerful watercraft that should allow it to reach heights of 50 feet.
For now, Wilson doesn't plan on developing the jetpack for mass production (sorry to disappoint). But he says he doesn't mind selling rides on the H2O. If anything, he's shown that with a little persistence and enough know-how, having your own personal flying machine doesn't need to be a six-figure pipe dream.