A local company hopes to set a world record next month, by flying a water-powered jetpack from Newport Harbor to Catalina Island.
The 26-mile trek will be attempted Sept. 29 by JetLev Southwest, with company president Dean O’Malley piloting the R200 pack. The flight will be in conjunction with the Catalina Island Air Show, which this year is commemorating the 100th anniversary of Glenn L. Martin’s record-breaking 1912 seaplane flight from Newport to Avalon and back.
“We will be setting a new record for distance traveled (in a water-powered jetpack) and, potentially, time spent flying,” O’Malley said. “My goal is to cover as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible, while still being safe.”
The public is encouraged to come out and watch the lift-off at sunrise at the Wedge or Corona del Mar State Beach. Boaters can also tag along and track his progress to Catalina.
Jetlev has reached out to the Guinness World Records and is working for ways to get the trip validated and submitted, O‘Malley said. He added that there is no water-powered jetpack record for distance, so they will be setting the record, rather than breaking it.
“I’m fully expecting and hoping that once we establish a record that someone will be inspired to break it,” O’Malley said. “I’d love to see someone, anyone, around the world to take to their water.”
The Jetlev jetpack can fly up to a top speed of 30 to 35 mph and as high as 30 feet in the air, in the right conditions. O’Malley will be flying at about half the top speed, due to the wind and rough ocean waters, and at a much lower height, so he fly as fast as possible.
O’Malley hopes the trip willl only take one tank of gas – about 22 gallons. According to the manufacturer, that’s good for about 80 miles in optimal conditions. Extra gas will be on a tracking boat if he needs to refuel.
The entire trip is expected to take about two hours, but it could be up to three, depending on the conditions, O’Malley noted.
Jetlev Southwest is attempting the flight for a few reasons.
One reason is just to see what the jetpack is capable of handling.
“We’re pushing the envelope to see what we can do with it,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley also hopes to get some answers to questions he has been thinking about since JetLev Southwest opened last year. Questions like: How far can the jetpack go? How long? Will it be easier than anticipated? Harder? Or even possible?
Or the idea that, yes, it’s a fun watercraft to play around with, but could someone actually use it for travel?
“You have an idea in your head of what it would be like,” he said, “we want to see if it is a truly viable option.”
If someone lived in New Jersey, could they fly over the Hudson River to work in New York?
“At this point, we just don’t know,” O’Malley said, “but someone has to be first.”
He has done a few test flights so far and is hoping to go out at least once a week up until the flight date. He will gradually step up his test flights for longer times and further distances out over the ocean, so he gets a sense of how to handle it over deeper, rougher water.
His most recent test flight was Monday at Newport Harbor around 5 p.m. At that time, the water was choppy, so it was a little rough going. The actual flight lift-off is planned for around sunrise, when waters are typically much calmer.
The longest he has flown so far has been about one or two miles, O’Malley said. He might try going out as far as five miles during his test flights.
It will definitely be a challenge, said O’Malley, adding he’s not really sure what to expect with the 26-mile flight to Catalina.
“It’s the unknown,” he said.
There are several things to consider, he said, including physical fatigue, rough water, bad weather, sharks, getting sore or uncomfortable, and, of course, there is always the possibility of equipment failure.
“It would take a lot for us to cancel,” he said, “and I’m feeling pretty confident.”
If all goes well, he might even fly it back, he said.
“Or maybe [JetLev Southwest CEO John Morris] will be inspired to break the record on the way home,” O’Malley joked.
Another reason for the trip is to build awareness about JetLev and show people how accessible flying a jetpack is. Jetpacks have been in the public’s minds for so long, O’Malley said, now “any average Joe can come out and fly.”
O’Malley and the JetLev Southwest team will also land in Avalon in time for the Catalina Island Air Show, where they will demonstrate the jetpack.
He is cautiously optimistic about the flight
“It’s an attainable feat… But I will be happy once it’s done and behind me,” O’Malley said, so they can move past the “unknown” stage onto “what’s next?”