… stashed in the room was a rocketbelt

Mysterious Working Jetpack found on UB

While on a technological survey of the University at Buffalo campus, Kathleen and I discovered one of the earliest working jetpack prototypes stashed in an unassuming room. Naturally I got excited, but I knew little of its origins. I began documenting it through photographs in hope of learning more about it later this evening.


Once I got home, I googled for “Bell Aerosystems” as labelled on the tanks, and lo behold, it was the infamous Bell Rocket Belt developed by Wendell Moore in 1960-1969. Furthermore…

In the early 1960s, Bell Aerosystems built a rocket pack which it called the “Bell Rocket Belt” or “man-rocket” for the US Army, using hydrogen peroxide as fuel. This concept was revived in the 1990s and today these packs can provide powerful, manageable thrust. This rocket belt’s propulsion works with superheated water vapour. A gas cylinder contains nitrogen gas, and two cylinders containing highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide. The nitrogen presses the hydrogen peroxide onto a catalyst, which decomposes the hydrogen peroxide into a mixture of superheated steam and oxygen with a temperature of about 740 °C. This was led by two insulated curved tubes to two nozzles where it blasted out, supplying the recoil. The pilot can vector the thrust by altering the direction of the nozzles through hand-operated controls. To protect from resulting burns the pilot had to wear insulating clothes.

One Bell Rocket Belt is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s, National Air and Space Museum’s annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles Airport.

History of the RocketBelt

Interestingly as my buddy MrBig pointed out, there was no mention of UB having one. It was then when I read lower down the Wikipedia article that I realized something… in reference to New Scientist October 2005 [No2519]:

In 1992, one-time insurance salesman and entrepreneur Brad Barker formed a company to build a rockeltbelt with two partners: Joe Wright, a businessman based in Houston, and Larry Stanley, an engineer who owned an oil well in Texas. By 1994, they had a working prototype they called the Rocketbelt-2000, or RB-2000. They even asked [Bill] Suitor to fly it for them. But the partnership soon broke down. First Stanley accused Barker of defrauding the company. Then Barker attacked Stanley and went into hiding, taking the RB-2000 with him. Police investigators questioned Barker but released him after three days. The following year Stanley took Barker to court to recover lost earnings. The judge awarded Stanley sole ownership of the RB-2000 and over $10m in costs and damages. When Barker refused to pay up, Stanley kidnapped him, tied him up and held him captive in a box disguised as a SCUBA-tank container. After eight days Barker managed to escape. Police arrested Stanley and in 2002 he was sentenced to life in prison, since reduced to eight years. The rocketbelt has never been found.

Could this be that missing rocketbelt?
All I have are those photos, so you tell me…

Update: And to prove that the RocketBelt actually works, here’s a History channel documentary about it. Interestingly, the narrator explains that its creator, Wendell Moore, was a Bell Aerospace engineer in Buffalo, New York. No wonder it’s here!

13 thoughts on “… stashed in the room was a rocketbelt

  1. @Agagooga: You’ll see that the nozzles are extended outwards from the pilot. 🙂

    @Ankit: It’s real. Let me find an archival video of it in action. I’ll update the post.

    @Brennan: Yup, Sean Connery used it once I believe.

  2. I thought the blast can be quite strong?

    Never Say Never Again (Connery) was a remake of Thunderball, where I believe the jetpack was also used.

    Agagoogas last blog post..

  3. Indeed it was Bond’s Thunderball, as explained in the documentary. Frankly speaking, I think we can make our own. The design looks simple enough, if we can get engineers to build the parts. I’m still curious how having two nozzles is enough for one to steer the pack the way it does.

  4. It’s possible that it is on loan from the Buffalo Museum of science. Back when I volunteered there (1998-1999) they had an exhibit on the thing when you first came in the door, because as you mentioned one of the engineers was from buffalo. You may want to try calling the museum to see if they have any more information on it.

  5. That is the Bell Rocket Belt #4, which was transferred to the UB in the ? late 1970’s. I had heard a rumor that it had an accident and from the pictures it appears that the upper control arms may be broken. Belt #1 is in the Niagra Museum, number 2 is in the Smithsonian, and I had thought #3 was at UB and #4 destroyed, but apparently that info was wrong. If the University does not wish to display it I know an aviation museum that would love to do so. Send me an email. That belt was actually a mature flying version used in many demonstrations by the Bell team. The prototype had a trigger style throttle, that throttle is based upon a Harley Davidson Throttle!

    1. Since Bell Aircraft (aka Bell Aerospace, Bell Textron Aerosystems, etc.) made its home in Niagara Falls, the rocket belt is a matter of local pride.

      I have always been interested in the Bell Rocket Belt, and had written a little about its history. In 2006, a Rocketbelt Convention was held, bringing together the old Bell employees who had developed and flown the belt with younger devotees who are building or flying a new generation of rocket belts. I showed up, met some wonderful people, learned a lot of history, and had a great time. Afterward, I cooked up my own lecture, “Ad Astra Peroxide: The Rise and Fall of the Bell Rocket Belt.”

      The belt you saw at the university was temporarily loaned to the Niagara Aerospace Museum for that weekend. The museum had another original Bell belt and some other weird belt-related hardware, like a prototype rocket pogo stick and a compressed-air belt intended for astronauts in zero gravity. (Sadly, the museum is now closed.)

      Eric Scott did a couple of rocket belt flights on the street outside the museum, which was a thrill.

      See my Livejournal for more about the conference:

      http://beamjockey.livejournal.com/45184.html
      http://beamjockey.livejournal.com/45602.html
      http://beamjockey.livejournal.com/45428.html
      http://beamjockey.livejournal.com/46380.html
      http://beamjockey.livejournal.com/46823.html
      http://beamjockey.livejournal.com/44512.html
      http://beamjockey.livejournal.com/46971.html

      For more photos, check out my Flickr collection:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/beamjockey/sets/72

      You would probably also enjoy Mac Montandon's book JETPACK DREAMS, which is doubtless in a nearby library. Mac was researching it when I met him at the 2006 conference. And Paul Brown's book THE ROCKET BELT CAPER, though it's chiefly concerned with a dreadful series of crimes in Texas, offers a good summary of RB history as well.

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