Mac Montandon

Ever since Buck Rogers comics of the 1930s popularized the notion of a personal flying machine-variously referred to as a "rocket belt" or "jetpack"-we have sought to propel ourselves into the air with such a device.Things actually looked good in the 1950s and 1960s when the engineer Wendell Moore and his team at the Bell Aerospace laboratories in upstate New York parlayed extreme diligence, a distinct lack of concern for bodily harm, and the occasional government check (including $30 million in 1967) into a crude but working prototype.The first untethered test of the machine took place on April 20, 1961. On that day, a young pilot named Harold Graham strapped on the 140-pound, hydrogen-peroxide-fueled rocket belt and flew for 13 seconds, traveling 112 feet-eight fewer than the Wright brothers on their maiden voyage. Not a bad start. Over the next several years, Moore honed his rocket-belt technology and conducted hundreds of test flights and demonstrations, primarily for military and NASA officials still keen on seeing the machine's potential realized.But after Moore died of a heart attack, in 1969, Bell's intellectual property was bought by a competing company that subsequently used it to develop the Tomahawk missile. At its best, mostly due to the limitations on the amount of fuel the machine could carry, Bell's rocket belt flew for 21 seconds at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.The dream languished, but never died. In 2006, the Niagara Aerospace Museum in Niagara, New York, hosted the first-ever International Rocketbelt Convention. Roughly 200 amateur builders, engineers, journalists, enthusiasts, tinkerers, and the just plain curious came from as far away as Australia for a weekend of lectures, memories, and, especially, demonstration flights.

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