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Jetpack Dreams: One Man's Up and Down (But Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention That Never Was Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 28, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Generations of boys, inspired by characters from Buck Rogers to Boba Fett, have dreamed of flying with jetpacks strapped to their backs. Freelance writer Montandon, editor of Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader, documents his search for the ultimate jetpack; along the way he encounters an offbeat bunch of middle-aged men with the same obsession. Montandon explains, for readers who don't attend the venues where jetpack jockeys rake in thousands of dollars from viewers who want to see a few seconds of flight, that the sticking point with jetpack technology is that you can't pack enough concentrated hydrogen peroxide on your back to fly for very long. Most jetpacks today are built from the original 1950s plans for the first working model, although many men have spent countless hours in the garage trying to improve on it. Along the way, there has been one unsolved murder and a gruesome torture and extortion case associated with a fabled lost jetpack that has taken on Holy Grail status. This snappily written, often funny book should attract dreamers of both sexes and all ages. Photos. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In far-flung garages from California to Northern Ireland, do-it-yourself futurists hold the torch for the vision of Wendell Moore, inventor of the backpack-mounted human rocket. Introducing himself to this community and catching some of its fever, Montandon merrily chronicles its activities and its existential dilemma. Rocket-pack technology has not advanced beyond the 20-second flights Moore’s test pilots attained at his demise in 1969. That limitation ended the military’s interest, but, Montandon recounts, show biz filled the applications void by casting rocket packs in action movies and as the opening act in the 1984 Olympics. At a convention, Montandon discusses the finer obsessions of enthusiasts, finesses their semi-developed social skills to snag invitations to their workshops, and embarks on road trips in a spirit of satirical commiseration with what people do after becoming obsessed with rocket packs. Most tinker with the flight-duration problem; another group, seeking to tap the public-performance market for rocket packs, went to jail after a violent disagreement about their business plan. Montandon’s entertaining adventures highlight a strange footnote of the space age. --Gilbert Taylor
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Mr. Montandon hangs down a fascinating crew of carbon-hard entrepreneurs, obsessive savants and murderous engineers, all in a quest to just get his feet a few inches off the ground for a few minutes. The glory of this sly book is that by the last page, you'll find yourself thinking that this an entirely reasonable thing.
It's a good book. If you're a fan of Tom Wolf, or George Plimpton, or Jon Ronson, or Terry Southern, you'll like Jet Pack Dreams
Because, at the end of the day, it's about FREAKIN' JET PACKS.
What happened is that imagination betrayed us. Montandon gives one example after another of jetpacks in comics or movies, but points out that the power of each has to do with a fantasy people have had for as long as they have had imaginations: wouldn't it be wonderful if we could fly? A guy with a jetpack is far closer to the fantasy ideal of flight than anyone enclosed within a plane. We got serious about jetpacks in the fifties, when Tom Moore, one of Dr. Wernher Von Braun's circle of engineers and a Buck Rogers fan, got a grant of $25,000 from the Army for this innovative way of moving soldiers. When other engineers got a jetpack that could produce liftoff, test pilots strapped it on, and by the early sixties, reliable, stable flight was being achieved, lasting all of 21 seconds. One of the pilots was Bill Suitor, who became the world's best jetpack pilot. He said flying the gadget was like "standing on a beach ball bobbing in the middle of a swimming pool," but he mastered the art of flying it. It was Suitor who stood in for Sean Connery when James Bond jetpacked in _Thunderball_. He flew it for the opening of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. And this is just about as far as practical jetpacking has come, a show that gets everyone's attention at openings of malls or state fairs - for 21 seconds. It is a toy, not a tool.
That does not make any difference to the countless tinkerers who are trying to make their jetpack dreams into reality. Montandon has a fine time traveling to see these guys all over the globe, and his rollicking prose makes a reader glad to be with him. He was hoping to don a jetpack himself and try it out; he never got closer than that first step. It's the sort of expectation and disappointment that echoes throughout this amusing tour of an idea that (for some) won't go away. Typical of these geeks is 32-year-old Jeremy McGrane of New Hampshire, who tinkers with his good-looking, sleek jetpack invention in his parents' garage. It is a recreation of Wendell Moore's original machine, with improvements, and it has yet to fly. McGrane says, "Most guys are dreaming of alcohol and women - not me. I'm just dreaming about how to make a throttle valve. It's peculiar behavior, I'll admit it, but sometimes I can't sleep at night." Trek Aerospace has a heli-jet that will do a jetpack's business, once a few kinks, like its 370-pound weight and its inability to fly, get worked out. The Skycar similarly has been in development for millions of dollars and 45 years, but doesn't fly. One of the most successful jetpack pioneers is Juan Manuel Lozano, "The Mexican Rocket Man", whom Montandon visits in Mexico City. Unfortunately, Mr. Lozano is immobile in his recliner, recovering from broken ribs and burns; well, just another jetpack that didn't live up to the dream. The dreamers are not always amiable kooks; the tale of the jetpack called "Pretty Bird" from the American Rocketbelt Corporation involves kidnapping, torture, and murder. It is more fun to enjoy with Montandon the first International Rocketbelt Convention, held in 2006 in Niagara Falls, with the slogan, "Where the past meets the present". Montandon is dismayed the there is so much nostalgia (where is the future in that slogan?). One of the old Bell Aerospace pilots sings his song to the conventioneers about the pioneers of the jetpack, and accompanies himself on the ukulele. At the convention store, you can buy a bumpersticker that says, "I'd Rather Be Flying a Rocketbelt". Dream on.
With that said, however, the premise of "Jetpack Dreams" is interesting, and the treatment of the subject is well-done. The technical errors play a minor role in the story and do not spoil the whole thing as they do in some other books. I have to give author Mac Montandan a lot of credit for doggedly pursuing the convoluted saga of "personal jetpacks" wherever the story took him--across the U.S. and to Mexico, England and Ireland--in a years-long odyssey to try to find the answer to the question, "Duuude, where's my jetpack?" "Jetpack Dreams" is mostly a chronicle of Mr. Montandan's contacts with entrepreneurs still trying to realize the dream of practical, personal wingless flight dating back to the Golden Age of science fiction in the 1930s. With varying degrees of success, none of these men (and they all, so far, are male) have managed to appreciably beat the performance of the Bell Aircraft Corporation "rocket belt" that was tested nearly 50 years ago. Why that is true is the main focus of "Jetpack Dreams."
I found the descriptions of Mr. Montandan's adorable kids, family life and relatives a little hard to take at some points (the book is supposed to be about jetpacks, after all), but mercifully such passages are not too long. I also got completely lost trying to figure out who did what to whom in his detailed description of the personalities, financial manipulations, assault and murder that marked the sordid history of the American Rocket Belt Corporation. But that's not the author's fault--I should have paid closer attention. So, on balance, I recommend "Jetpack Dreams" (with some reservations) to anyone who wants to understand what has happened in the personal wingless flight field since the first man flew free with a rocket on his back on April 20, 1961.
Most recent customer reviews
Or at least he wants one bad enough to contact lots of people who have done something about it, and...Read more
I liked the book because I want a Jetpack and the book was very, very funny. I liked it because it was the biggest book I have ever read.Read more