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.
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.
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!