Joyride on a jetpack: Taking to the 'skies' over Paris

Bryony Jones, CNNPublished 19th June 2015
Le Bourget, France (CNN) — By the early 21st century, we were supposed to be living in a futuristic utopia, with robots to do our chores and flying saucers to drive us to work -- if you believe in the soothsaying powers of "The Jetsons," that is.
Sadly, life hasn't turned out quite as the team at animation studio Hanna-Barbera saw it back in the 1960s.
But one part of the hit cartoon is finally a reality: Jetpacks.
New Zealand company Martin Jetpacks is set to go into production with what it calls "the world's first practical jetpack" within the next 12 months.
CEO Peter Coker says the first production model of the Martin Jetpack -- named one of Time magazines "Top 50 Inventions" in 2010 -- should be on sale by the second half of next year.
The company is aiming to sell initially to the first responder sector: firefighters, search and rescue, medics.
"It's a tactical aircraft," says Coker. "We believe it has the potential to save lives."
Then, of course, there's the lucrative recreation market -- at the Paris Air Show, the team signed deals with potential customers and retailers in China, India and the Czech Republic.
Strap on wings and fly! CNN's Jeanne Moos reports on a daring duo wearing jetpacks that pack a 190 mph punch.
The machine is the invention of Glenn Martin, who dreamed of flying to school as a five-year-old -- like his cartoon counterpart Ellroy Jetson -- and spent three decades toiling away in his garage to turn his vision into a reality.
"I saw 'Lost in Space,' 'Thunderbirds' and the Apollo program when I was young," Martin told CNN in a March 2014 interview. "When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, I knew that anything was possible."
Martin parted company with the firm that bears his name earlier this year, but his dream of a working jetpack is well and truly here.
And what's more, they're letting me try it out ...
Or at least a simulation of it.
I climb the steps up to the simulator gingerly, and step into the footholds before strapping myself into the bulky white metal frame, gripping the controls, and putting on a set of Oculus Rift goggles.
Instantly, I'm transported from a stand at the back of a nondescript convention hall to the banks of the Seine; in the distance, across the shimmering blue river I can see the Eiffel Tower.
Jetpack test pilot -- how's that for a job title? -- Mike van der Vliet gives me a quick lesson in how to control the machine I'm about to be put in charge of.
My left thumb presses down on the throttle button to start the engine.
Twisting the joystick in my left hand left sends me up, right brings me back down.
A second joystick in my right hand pitches me backwards, forwards, left and right to control direction.
It sounds so simple.
I'm sure for anyone with even a basic knowledge of video games, or the ability to distinguish directions, it would be child's play.
In fact, I'm convinced that, but for the fact the machine is simply too big for them, most eight-year-old kids would grasp how this all works within seconds, and be shooting across the Seine in a heartbeat.
I, however, have never been much good at gaming.
CNN's Richard Quest tests the world's first water powered jet pack which lets you fly 30 feet in the air.
I have to pretend to hold a pen in my hand to remember which is left and which is right.
And it took me three (or possibly four -- at that point, who's counting) attempts to pass my driving test.
Which is to say, this isn't going to be pretty.
I'm hugely grateful that at this point only van der Vliet, Martin Jetpack's chief mechanical technician Timothy Spencer and a couple of passers-by are on hand to witness my embarrassment.
If this was the real thing, of course, I wouldn't be let loose quite so easily.
When the machines begin rolling off the production line in 2016, would-be pilots will need a license to fly microlight aircraft before they can begin their training, first in the classroom, then on the simulator, and then on the jetpack itself.
The process is expected to take about three weeks.
After a few false starts, I get the machine going, and -- slowly, slowly -- rise a few feet off the ground, hovering in place while I turn on the spot to get my bearings.
And then I do what anyone would do when handed the controls of a jetpack near the Eiffel Tower: I head straight for it.
Hey, this isn't so bad, I think, pausing to enjoy the view.
Big mistake.
Never mind the Jetsons, it turns out that stopping midway while also trying to remember the instructions turns me into the equivalent of another cartoon character: Wile E. Coyote looking down while chasing the Road Runner off a cliff.
And while the jetpack's controls mean that I hover sedately on the spot rather than plummeting dramatically back to Earth, my confidence is shot to pieces.
I decide to bring the aircraft down to land here and now. Even if here and now means landing in the Seine river.
I ease the jetpack into the water; to my horror, the maneuver is greeted with a huge round of applause: a crowd has gathered, and as I pull the headset off they cheer while my avatar -- which they've been watching on a big screen -- flips over and sinks beneath the water.
Nobody's ever done THAT before, I'm told.
But at least my feet aren't wet.
I'm not sure I'd trust myself with the real thing though.