Archive for March, 2010

The Bell Jet Belt


I recently finished a book written by B-Love’s friend Mac Montandon about jetpacks. It’s part history, part tale of an obsession with flying devises that can be strapped on like a rucksack. The most famous of these was the Bell Rocket Belt developed in the late ’50s - early ’60s (see it in action at the beginning of Thunderball). The Rocket Belt was somewhat simple in design, relying on hydrogen peroxide for fuel. To create the thrust needed to actually make a man fly, a single tank of nitrogen would press the hydrogen peroxide in two tanks out and into a catalyst chamber, which then created a superheated blast of steam. The Rocket Belt pilot used two hand controls to manipulate the direction of the nozzles, thus steering the Rocket Belt in the desired direction. Probably the biggest disadvantage of the design was the limited flight duration, which topped out at around 30 seconds. This curtailed the Rocket Belt’s appeal to the military, which would have been the main customer of this fanciful flying machine. But the Rocket Belt eventually led to a project that I found even more intriguing: The Bell Jet Belt.


The successor to the Rocket Belt, the Jet Belt, relied on a small kerosene powered jet engine instead of a hydrogen peroxide “rocket” engine. This new design allowed for up to 20 minutes of flight at speeds of up to 120 MPH with a range of about 20 miles. The Flying Belt was built around the W-19 bypass turbofan engine, which was started by a small explosive cartridge. The turbofan design offered a lot of power with little fuel consumption, which gave this jetpack the impressive flying time and range. Like the Jet Belt, controls were provided by means of hand-grips. Maybe somewhat similar to the Harrier jump jet, thrust from the engine was “vectored” by nozzles, giving the pilot the ability to go forward, backward, and rotate from side to side. Interestingly, the kerosene fuel was housed in clear plastic tanks that wrapped around the engine and held about six gallons.

Like the Rocket Belt, the Jet Belt was insanely noisy, making its military value limited (since it would be worthless for surveillance missions). In 1968, the Jet Belt program died and the design was sold to Williams Research Corporation, which later used an updated version of the W-19 engine for the Air Force’s cruise missile program. Another reason why the Jet Belt was probably unattractive to the military was the weight of the whole thing. Without fuel, the Jet Belt topped the scales at 124 pounds. This made it less appealing as a practical flying device that could be used in the field (although if made today, lightweight material could be utilized, like carbon fiber and titanium, to bring the weight down significantly).


While a few jetpack fans have successfully recreated Bell’s Rocket Belt, it appears only one man has tackled the far more complex Jet Belt design. Over in the UK, Richard Brown seems to be making progress on an updated version of the Jet Belt. There are still some real obstacles someone would need to overcome to make the design successful, like keeping the total weight of the jetpack reasonable and protecting the pilot from a catastrophic engine failure that could send fatal bits of fan into a pilots body, but I believe these technical hurdles could be overcome with the copious application of money and time. Of course the real question is why would the world even need a turbojet powered jetpack. The answer is of course it doesn’t fill any real need other than it would be totally cool.

3 comments March 22nd, 2010


March 2010
« Feb   Apr »

Posts by Month

Posts by Category