CLOSE

Here's Your Jetpack

Jetpacks have long been a staple of American futurism: we believe that soon, just down the line a bit, we'll be able to strap on a jet-powered backpack and fly to work. But, decade after decade, no jetpacks. At least not at my house. The "Where's My Jetpack?" notion is such a mainstay of futurist thinking that it's the title of a book. But despite not having your own jetpack, various prototypes have been built and actually worked. Let's have a look at the best-known jetpack, which was actually called a "rocket belt."

The Bell Aerosystems Rocket Belt

Bell Aerosystems developed the Rocket Belt under contract with the US Army. Its flying time was extremely limited (about 20 seconds), but it actually worked -- tests were carried out throughout the 1960s, as well as flights at the 1984 and 1996 Summer Olympics. In the demo video below (circa 1966), test pilot Bill Suitor demonstrates the pack, explaining that a timer buzzes against his skull as he flies -- if he runs out of jet fuel, he crashes to the ground. (Incidentally, apparently this happened to inventor Wendell Moore in an early test flight, causing Moore to break a kneecap and stop flying. The early test flights used a ground tether to prevent enthusiastic novice pilots from shooting up too high to safely descend within the 20-second-ish window.) When asked about parachutes and other methods of descent in this video, Suitor chuckles and says, "We rely on gravity." He has a point -- he's not flying high enough for a parachute to help. BEHOLD:

Suitor flew 1,200 times using this device, and wrote a book about being a jetpack pilot, called The Rocketbelt Pilot's Manual. He appeared in a laundry list of TV shows and movies piloting the pack, including: The A-Team, The Fall Guy, Gilligan's Island, Lost in Space, Newhart (!), The Six Million Dollar Man, and the Bond movie Thunderball.

And here's some footage (no sound) of two Bell Rocket Belts flying simultaneously (note the 16mm movie camera mounted on one pilot's helmet). Because of the time limitations, this one-minute movie must have entailed multiple refueling sessions.

And here's Suitor flying at Disneyland in 1965:

(The title of this video says the event took place in 1966, but helpful commenters helped determine that it was probably taken in late December, 1965.)

And a seven-minute History Channel clip about the Rocket Belt:

You can also watch a ten-minute silent film featuring various clips of test flights in the 1960s.

Although the Bell Rocket Belt is the best-known working jetpack, there have been others. NASA uses a jetpack on its EVAs so astronauts can maneuver and return to the spacecraft (plus, there were early plans for a Bell product to go to the Moon on the Apollo missions, notably a two-man variant called the Bell POGO), and various private companies have worked on the technology -- Wikipedia's jetpack page has a good roundup. Also relevant is a MythBusters episode in which the guys attempt to build a jetpack.

So, to answer the "Where's my jetpack?" question: it has been around in various forms since the 1960s, but it's dangerous, requires extensive training to operate, and has run times measured in seconds. But, hey, it exists.

The Jetpack Murder

There's a curious 1990s coda to the jetpack saga involving an "RB-2000" jetpack and an unsolved murder. You can read all about it from Atlas Obscura. Here's a tidbit:

By the time the RB-2000 was flying over the Houston Ship Channel, the company was already in ruins. Barker and Stanley were at each others throats, while the third partner Joe Wright had a failing car stereo business and a escalating crystal meth addiction. Even before the inaugural flight of the belt, Barker and Stanley had had a terrible falling out. Stanley believed Barker was stealing money from the company and when he confronted Barker, they fought violently. From a 2002 Sunday Herald article:

"Stanley got in my face," Barker recalls. "I grabbed a five-pound, dead-blow, lead-filled hammer off the table. I hit Stanley short blows twice to the back of the head. That pretty much ended the partnership."

Read the rest. It's worth it. The book Jetpack Dreams also covers this topic in depth.

See also: Jetpacks: The Future Is Now; Where's My Jetpack?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
iStock
iStock

Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
arrow
science
Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
National Trust

Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios