Martin Jetpack makers target first responders

The Martin Jetpack is not, technically, a jetpack. With an empty weight of around 440 pounds (200 kilograms), this one-person aircraft is something that you step into rather than strap on, and it relies for thrust on belt-driven ducted fans, rather than the streams of hot gases that propel the rocket-packs familiar from science fiction movies. But while purists may quibble with the name, the Martin Jetpack offers all of the excitement of flying a jetpack, while also providing notable safety features including structural protection for the pilot and a ballistic parachute. Unlike most jetpack prototypes, it also has a realistic path to market.

Martin Jetpack
The Martin Jetpack was on display at this year’s Airborne Law Enforcement Association Expo in Savannah, Georgia, in July. Mike Reyno Photo
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To get it there, the investors behind Martin Aircraft Co. are targeting an unexpected audience: first responders and homeland security agencies. Those aren’t the customers that the aircraft’s inventor, Glenn Martin, had in mind when he began tinkering with his first prototypes in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the 1980s and ’90s. As Martin has explained in other interviews, he always intended for his aircraft to serve a recreational market, delivering on the promise of personal jetpacks in 1960s-era science fiction.

Martin Aircraft’s current management maintains that it hasn’t abandoned that dream — indeed, the company recently teamed up with sporting equipment manufacturer Oakley and pro golfer Bubba Watson to develop the concept of a Golf Cart Jetpack. In the near term, however, the company’s directors see a more promising launch market among police, fire, and other public agencies, which are likely to have the resources as well as the regulatory flexibility necessary to operate a never-before-certified aircraft type.

To court that market, Christchurch-based Martin Aircraft and its U.S. partner, Avwatch Incorporated, brought a Martin Jetpack prototype and simulator to this year’s Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) Expo, July 20-22 in Savannah, Georgia. There, interested attendees received a quick introduction to the aircraft’s flight controls —the left hand controls altitude, while the right hand joystick uses intuitive movements to control pitch, roll, and yaw — then went for a spin in the full-motion simulator with the aid of a virtual-reality headset.

Once in the sim, some potential applications for the Martin Jetpack were immediately apparent. As Michael Read, Martin Aircraft vice president of flight operations, explained, “Our specialty is flying in and around people and buildings.” The Jetpack is a speedy way for first responders to reach the tops of tall buildings, including some ledges that would be inaccessible by helicopter. Without a large-diameter rotor disc to worry about, they can hover directly in front of windows, while the stability built into the aircraft’s fly-by-wire flight control system allows them to free their hands for other tasks — such as placing plastic explosives around a window frame in order to effect entry.

According to Avwatch’s Clay “Jungle” Bernardi, however, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg, as agencies are likely to find new and innovative uses for the aircraft in the field. “We think the use cases will be developed around the technology,” he said.

Martin Aircraft is currently working with New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop a certification pathway for this unique aircraft type. In May, the CAA awarded Experimental Airworthiness Certificates for two prototype Jetpacks (ZK-JMK and ZK-JML). According to Read, because the aircraft does not fit into existing regulations, the company is aiming to obtain a restricted category type certificate using a blend of Federal Aviation Regulations (e.g. part 27 – normal category rotorcraft), eventually followed by full type certification.

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“We’re working very closely with regulators to pave the way for this technology,” Read said. “The big thing for us long-term is to create a new category [for this aircraft or similar].”

In the meantime, the company is also modifying the aircraft to incorporate a 200-horsepower Rotron rotary engine from U.K.-based Gilo Industries Group Ltd., which will replace the two-stroke V4 engine used in previous prototypes.

“The rotary engine really makes sense for this aircraft,” said Read, predicting that the high power-to-weight ratio of the Rotron engine — an adaptation of engines now being used in unmanned aerial vehicles — will boost the aircraft’s performance.

In 2017, Martin Aircraft is aiming to meet the maximum takeoff weight for the Jetpack of 705 pounds (320 kilograms), giving it a payload of 265 lbs (120 kg). Its range is estimated at 18 to 30 miles (29 to 48 kilometers), with a maximum airspeed of 40 knots and a cruise speed of 31 knots.

The maximum ceiling for the Jetpack is presently established at 3,000 feet above sea level. However, that’s really “a conservative line in the sand,” said Read, noting that further flight testing should expand the Jetpack’s flight envelope. The aircraft’s fly-by-wire flight controls also open the door for remotely piloted applications, making the aircraft an optionally piloted vehicle. With multiple Jetpacks potentially able to fly in formation via electronic tether, first responders could conceivably use fleets of Jetpacks to evacuate victims in natural disasters and other emergency situations.

The estimated price for the Martin Jetpack is currently around US$300,000. Although the certification and delivery schedule has slipped from original targets, the company is projecting first deliveries in early 2017. Said Read, “It’s going to be great for the industry and great for society to get this technology out there.”

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9 thoughts on “Martin Jetpack makers target first responders

  1. So much to comment on this company, how it started and where it seems to be right now. Glenn Martin left the Martin Aircraft Company only a few months after he listed it with a much promoted IPO. He appears to be no longer connected to, or interested in his brain child. KuangChi, a Shenzhen based, Hong Kong listed and Bermuda incorporated company has taken a 52% stake in Martin Aircraft Company and the former CEO, Peter Coker has now been replaced by the former CFO, James West. Peter Coker now works for KuangChi in a rather strange capacity and who knows what this new mix will achieve in the short, medium and in the long term. The technical specifications have now been downgraded and the first commercial delivery date postponed from Q3/2016 to some time in 2017. By Martin Aircraft’s own admission, more money will be needed to achieve just the final certification approval for this jetpack. I just hope that things will turn out in a positive way for Martin Aircraft Company and for all of the stakeholders and financial supporters who trusted Glenn Martin with their hard earned money.

  2. I’ve been a fan of the MJP since it’s debut at Oshkosh in 2010, but with all the companies bringing us jetpacks an flying cars, delivery is always ‘next year’ or in ‘two years’.

    The Bubba Watson video was just a viral campaign by Oakley like Bubba’s ‘Hovercraft’ golfcart.

    And what is so ‘unexpected’ about them targeting first responders?

  3. …… Same here, regarding a long standing fascination with this relatively new aircraft design. I am not entirely sure what the makers of the flying cars promised, or how they raised their funds to keep them going for years on end. However, Martin Jetpack printed an extremely detailed roadmap in their glossy IPO prospectus, advising all of their prospective investors of a Q3/2016 delivery date. As of today (22 September 2016), there are just 9 days for them to keep this promise. Maybe next near, maybe the year after that? The golf cart campaign was in my opinion an ill advised exercise, diminishing the product to a ludicrous gimmick. It might have drawn some ‘viral’ attention, but so did the extracurricular actions of some swimmers during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Not every publicity is good publicity. Bubba also promoted Hovercrafts as alternative golfcarts and I don’t know how many of these vehicles can be found on your local courses. Martin Jetpack is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and is therefore under some regulatory scrutinity. With more than 100 staff, the days of tinkering in a backyard garage should now be over and milestone promises should be kept. Only time will tell how this venture will end, including a possible move away from New Zealand to the home country of the 52% majority shareholder KuangChi, if they cannot see any value from the more than 50 million dollars they invested in this company.

  4. Martin Aircraft Company just held its 2016 AGM in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Chairman of the board opened the meeting, stating that he is ‘not happy with the progress made by the company to the end of the (2015/2016) financial year’. The 2014 IPO milestone promises could not be kept and there were no Q3/2016 jetpack deliveries, as advised in the prospectus. In fact, Martin Aircraft does not have a single firm order, just a number of non-binding ‘Memorandum Of Understanding’ (MOU). All original performance specifications had to be downgraded, including flight time, flight distance and total payload. 30 hours between engine overhaul is also not something that will restrict the potential ‘disruptive technology’ attractiveness of this airframe. The company advised that the next capability demonstrations are now scheduled for March 2017, but no approximate delivery dates have been advised. 22 employees have been retrenched and the former CEO, now working for KuangChi Science in Hong Kong, has been replaced by the former CFO of MACL, Mr. James West. Just NZ$20.9 million (USD$14.9 million) remain as cash reserves and the operating loss for the 2015/2016 financial year was NZ$14.0 million. KuangChi, MACL’s 52% cornerstone investor, guarantees financial support until the end of August 2017. MACL’s financial future from then on remains uncertain, if no income cash flow is established by then. The current P12 aircraft ‘remains short of being commercially viable as an aviation grade product’. The Series 1 aircraft is ‘intended to be a step change towards this goal and will hopefully enable the company to show customers first-hand what the jetpack is capable of and how it can be used practically’.

    Summary: All 2014 IPO cornerstone promises could not be realised. No jetpack was delivered in Q3/2016. Research, testing & certification attempts continue and financial support from Hong Kong listed, Shenzhen based and Bermudas incorporated 52% cornerstone investor is promised until August 2017 (another 9 months).

  5. By their own accounts, Martin Aircraft Company (MACL) will conduct another capital raising in the near future. This after they have churned through A$44 million, provided by their 52% cornerstone investor, KuangChi Science alone. This is not even counting the millions of dollars that individual MJP investors transferred during 2014 IPO and the money that Glenn Martin raised for 30 years, prior to the public listing on the Australian Stock Exchange. Much of the money was used to travel the world, including Monaco, India, Germany, China, the United Arab Emirates & the USA with their static display and a flight simulator computer game for a product that does not commercially exist. To say the least, Martin Aircraft’s future appears highly uncertain.

  6. Martin Aircraft’s share price continues its downward slide and has of today reached a record low of 35 Australian cents. Seems like the former CEO of the company, Mr. Coker left MACL at the ‘right time’ and just weeks before the 2016 AGM. After 3.5 years as the CEO of Martin Aircraft Company, Mr. Coker is now working for MACL’s 52% major shareholder KuangChi Science, a Bermuda Incorporated entity. Mr. Coker has just been invited by the Christchurch Business Club in Christchurch, New Zealand to give a keynote speech on 28 November 2016: http://cbc.org.nz/peter-coker/

  7. What a disappointing commercial failure this Martin Aircraft jetpack project has been so far. In excess of 30 years development time, many millions of dollars raised in an official listing on the Australian Stock Exchange and still, NOTHING to sell on their website, other than T-shirts, logo branded pens & other small accessories.

    Compare this Frank Robinson, the inventor of the Robinson helicopter. Unable to interest any of his former employers in his concept for a small, low-cost helicopter, Robinson resigned from Hughes and founded Robinson Helicopter Company (RHC) in his Palos Verdes home. The first R22 prototype was built in a tin hangar at the nearby Torrance Airport, and in August of 1975, Robinson flew the R22 on its first flight. In 1979, after 3 1/2 years of testing and technical analysis, the R22 received its FAA Type Certificate. The first R22 was delivered in late 1979 and soon became the world’s top selling civil helicopter.

    In contrast, Glenn Martin (the ‘inventor’ of the Martin Jetpack) lost interest in his company just weeks after listing it on the ASX. He suddenly resigned in 2014, just weeks after raising millions of dollars from trusting investors, stating philosophical differences with the management personell that he himself had hired. Commercial outcome developments have since stalled and all technical specifications have been downgraded to a level where the jetpack on hand is no longer a viable commercial aviation product. There was a brief promotion excercise with an American pro golfer and a sunglasses manufacturer, suggesting that the jetpack could at least be used as an alternative golf cart. A ridiculous suggestion and something that (in my mind) further discredited this so called ‘disruptive technology’.

    A CEO (Mr. Coker) has come and gone, replaced by the former CFO, Mr. West. However, Mr. Coker is apparently still charged to oversee financeial control measures in his new position as a ‘vice president’ of KuangChi Science, the Bermuda tax haven incorporated majority shareholder (52%) of Martin Aircraft Company.

    There has not been a NEWSLETTER update from the company since 1 August 2016 and none is expected by me. The new CEO, Mr. West announced some time ago, that additional funding will be required in the near future and this might be an occasion when the company website will be updated again.

    An all time record low share price of 35 Australian cents ended the trading week of 4 November 2016 and with the IPO promised Q3/2016 first commercial jetpack delivery date having been abandoned, the survival of this company beyond its current funding arrangements seems to be highly doubtful.

    MJP ‘Investor’

  8. Martin Aircraft Company (MACL) just exhibited at the 11th China Airshow, held from 6 to 11 November 2016 in Zhuhai, ROC. Contrary to previous exhibition attendences, the new MACL CEO, Mr. West did not update the market about possible outcomes. Previous show attendances at least resulted in the signing of ‘Memoranda of Understanding’ (MoU’s), but given that they are non-binding expressions of interest, they are pointless anyway and just publicity stunts. Also, at this stage they do not have any market ready products to sell. It will be ‘interesting’ to see when the remaining NZ$22.3M million in cash holdings run out. KuangChi, Martin Aircraft’s Bermuda incorporated 52% majority shareholder, has now injected more than NZ$43M into this (still) Christchurch based company. Will they be prepared to pour more money into this venture, or will they cut their losses?

  9. Martin Aicraft Company’s 6 day attendance at the China Airshow this month (November 2016) closed without any feedback from the company. You may assume that no deals were signed there as well. Another event, The SingularityU NZ Summit in Christchurch, has also just been held. Martin Aircraft Company was represented there and described this event as an excellent local opportunity to further educate the global market about their still non-existing ‘commercial’ jetpack. No company feedback from this event as well. It really does appear that their website has now been suspended. In contrast, MACL’s Los Angeles based competitor, http://www.jetpackaviation.com, with a much smaller team of developers (just a handful, compared to around 100 at MACL), will start selling their jetpacks within a few months. I think that Martin Aircraft Company was just a media stunt and an opportunity to sign a advertising ploy with the American golfer Bubba Watson and the sunglasses company he supports. What a shame!

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