I got a lot of LOLs in response to my latest Facebook status update:
"Sore… from jetpacking…"
But I wasn't joking.
That's right. I have transcended gravity in the geekiest and most technologically extreme way imaginable. I flew a jetpack!
More specifically, a hydro-powered jetpack known as the Jetlev R200. Developed by a company of the same name, Jetlev has been working on the tech since 2000. They completed their first prototype in 2004, and their first commercial models became available in early 2011.
What some people wrote off as a flash-in-the-pan interest or a sci-fi super-fan delusion has since expanded to several different markets, with 40 units distributed worldwide. A total of 8 locations around the globe also offer jetpacking as a sport attraction and many others are expected to follow in the next year.
Anyway, back to the actual flying. I'm not gonna lie. It wasn't easy.
After I watched a five-minute video and signed a few waivers, they put me through some training on the beach. The Jetlev is water-propelled; a SeaDoo 255hp engine is used to suck water up through a 33-foot hose, which pumps over 1000 gallons per minute, generating over 500 lbs of thrust.
The President of Jetlev Southwest, Dean O'Malley, told me, "Because of the large diameter of the nozzles, the pressure is not dangerous. You can actually put your hands under the jets without getting hurt."
The unit itself weighs about 25 pounds. You sit in it and walk waist-deep into the water before turning on the ignition. The first time you go up, an instructor controls the throttle with an RC controller and talks to you through a walkie-talkie in your helmet.
Still, it takes most people 5-10 minutes to get up in the air. I had a solid 8 failed attempts of my own, many involving face-plants, and one where I steered myself underwater and had to make use of the attached killswitch. It's tough; any sudden lurches or jerks cause you to lose control. You have to finesse it one way or the other in millimeter increments at a time.
When I finally got into the air, my arms were painfully tense with the effort. I also felt like I'd been rocketed all the way up to the clouds, and immediately gave the signal to be brought back down. At which point I realized I'd only been 2 feet off the ground and was sent back out.
Jetlev can take a more experienced user to a max height of 30 feet. Max depth is also 30 feet, and max speed is 35mph.
One-time flights with Jetlev cost as little as $159 for 20 minutes and up to $279 for 30 minutes. High rollers can buy their very own jetpack for about $100,000.
If you shell out a little extra, you can even strap on some GoPros and take home the footage from your ride.