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At last: your jetpack is on its way


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Plenty of people grow up dreaming of their own jetpack. Glenn Martin actually built one.

Sixteen years and 12 prototypes later, the New Zealander reckons his flying machine is all but ready for public use.

His company, Martin Aircraft, is looking to raise $25 million in a November listing on the Australian stock exchange.

The first orders are expected to be penned next year, with the first models zooming around the skies within two years.

But at an estimated $215,000 a pop, they won’t be for the man in the street.

Instead, they’re designed for the “first responder” market: paramedics, firefighters, border patrol.

“We’ve had paramedics who’ve come to us and said they work in large cities, and when there’s an accident they have trouble getting there because traffic’s so bad,” Martin said.

“The advantage of this is that it can land in very small spaces – much smaller than a helicopter can land in – right beside an accident.”

The company has had a “deluge” of inquiries from companies, governments, and even the odd millionaire playboy, Martin says.

He declined to name names, but said 80 per cent of inquiries were from the United States.

The latest prototype, viewed by AAP on Thursday, is less of a jetpack than a personal rotor copter.

It’s a carbon-fibre frame housing a two-litre, 200 horsepower petrol engine, which powers two large rotors positioned either side of the standing pilot.

It can carry 120 kilograms and fly at up to 74 km/h for 30 minutes at altitudes of 1000 metres. The pilot navigates via two joysticks positioned next to each hand.

Martin, who formerly worked in pharmaceuticals, says he dreamed of his own jetpack from an early age.

“I was brought up in the 1960s, saw the space program, always wanted a jetpack, saw jetpacks on The Jetsons, Lost in Space, Thunderbirds,” he said.

“But a few years later I found that I was 21, at university, and there were no jetpacks.

“After a night drinking at a pub with a few mates, complaining, I decided to go away and research it.”

To his dismay, the rocket-based technology at the time would fly jetpacks for less than 30 seconds – and a pilot had to weigh less than 70kg.

“I’m 100kg and wanted to fly longer than 26 seconds.”

By 1998 he’d built a prototype in his garage and was confident it could lift a human off the ground.

So he strapped his wife to it.

It worked, and he gave up his day job.

By 2004, after a couple more prototypes, a New Zealand venture capitalist firm agreed to pour several million dollars into the project.

Today, the firm has 17 employees, and has attracted interest from the likes of Google co-founder Larry Page.

Martin plans to show the aircraft off to potential Australian clients next year.

Before it flies, the craft needs to be cleared by national aviation regulators.

It’s built to fit within the “microlight” category of craft, which includes the smallest planes and powered paragliders.

Certification will first be sought from the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, which will smooth its certification in other countries.

A spokesman for the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the organisation had met with Mr Martin last year and were aware of the jetpack.

“We’re watching with interest,” he said.

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