** Watch the video here. **
They promised us jet packs!
That was the rallying cry that brought me to the JetLev Southwest office near Cannery Village one fine day recently.
For decades the stuff of science fiction and youngsters’ active imaginations, the idea of personal jet packs for making those hops to work or the grocery store has worked its way into the fabric of American culture, from “The Jetsons” in the 1960s on down to today.
And until very recently, is has been a dream unfulfilled – sort of a futurist’s urban legend.
But now, finally (I can remember when “The Jetsons” was a new show), I was going to get mine.
Nevermind that it only gets about 30 feet in the air, max, and only works over water. That’s still about 29 feet 10 inches higher than I can do unassisted, and makes for a softer landing.
Many of you have probably seen the JetLev scooting over Newport Harbor in recent weeks, notably in the Old Glory Boat Parade on the Fourth of July.
The JetLev device works this way: an engine and pump are contained in a closed, floating boat about 10 feet long. A hose goes from the pump to a pair of nozzles fitted to a harness that is strapped to the flier’s torso. Crank it up and the water spraying from the nozzles propels the pack, and whoever is strapped to it, into the air (when properly piloted, that is).
A couple of handles allows the flier to tilt the nozzles to maintain balance and control the direction of flight. One of the grips also has a throttle to control the lift and speed, but this is done remotely by a JetLev employee when newbies fly.
Dean O’Malley, the operator and franchisee of JetLev Southwest, has logged hundreds of hours in the jet pack and happily demonstrates his ability to swoop, circle, dive and “submarine” (go underwater and pull back out) – seemingly effortlessly. This guy can do everything but cook a soufflé with a JetLev.
After showing a short video about the pack’s operation, O’Malley and his JetLev comrades take me out to the bay, strap me in, give some last-minute instructions and then I’m in the water.
Just push the button on the right handle, and off I go!
Well … not.
I pop up and over, going face-first into the water like a particularly ungainly and uncoordinated seal in a Sea World show gone horribly awry.
Actually, by now I’m getting pretty good at looking like a total goof. But that’s nothing new.
The JetLev folks continue to smile and offer encouragement, and I keep trying.
I’m up and out of the water to my waist … whoops! Splash!
I’m up and out of the water to my knees … ack! Sploosh!
I’m up and out of the water. Out of the water! Woo-hoo! I’m really fl … arrg! Kerplunk!
OK, it’s a process.
Except the guy who did it befor me was up and flying on like his third attempt and I’m 10 minutes into it and still flopping like a distressed mackerel.
But Dean and the guys are undaunted, and I’m determined, and soon … I’m up … And I’m staying up!
I’m listing to port and bobbing up and down like a yo-yo – but I’m flying!
A few more minutes and I’ve kind of got my air-legs, flying relatively smoothly and even making a couple of big wide turns.
I look down at my feet dangling over the water 10 feet below.
I’m still a bit wobbly, but now I actually can relax a bit and soak up the experience instead of the saltwater of the Harbor.
I fly and turn and take in the view and feel the wind between my toes.
And it’s a rush.
The second half of the session goes as quickly as the first half seemed an endless series of belly-flops.
I actually get to do a “submarine” myself, the JetLev staff obviously impressed with my ability to hit the water.
Down I go. The sensation of flying through the water is indescribably surreal and more than a little disorienting, but I count to three and push the nozzles up, as instructed, and – whoosh! – I break the surface and soar into the air like a cross between Flipper and Superman!
All too soon, it’s time to go in. So I do my patented goony-bird landing, the guys help me remove the harness and helmet, and I’m back on dry land.
Except, in my mind, I’m still soaring.
Eat your heart out, George Jetson!