The compliments of the season paid to the Martin Aircraft Company Limited (MACL) in the closing weeks of 2014 were particularly flattering. In December MACL concluded two agreements that will see the company’s future take off to the next level – full commercialisation.
MACL, based in Christchurch, is the maker of the world’s first practical jetpack. The Martin Jetpack was created in 1997 by Glenn Martin and achieved lift-off the same year. Its research and development so far were funded by private investors, with some backing from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Callaghan Institute.
The jetpack is a one person aircraft consisting of a carbon-fibre frame powered by a V4 two stroke 200hp engine driving two ducted fans that produce a straight jet stream of air. The fans, positioned both sides of a standing pilot, provide vertical thrust and special control vanes below the ducts to redirect the jet-stream to control the aircraft’s horizontal movement. It is controlled by a fly-by-wire computer system which makes it easy for the pilot to control and fly it by means of joysticks.
It can take off and land vertically and due to its small dimensions can operate in confined spaces other aircraft cannot access. Registered as an experimental aircraft under the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, it is authorised to fly both manned and unmanned. Unmanned test flights with an earlier prototype successfully reached an altitude of 1500m above sea level. MACL plans to offer the first jetpacks for sale to the first responder market in 2016. The first commercial jetpack is anticipated to be capable of flying at 1000m in altitude at 74 km/h carrying a maximum of 120kg.
In December MACL signed an investment agreement with KuangChi Science Limited, a Hong Kong Exchange listed company engaged in the novel space services and other innovative technology businesses. The agreement is for a long term strategic partnership which over time will see KuangChi Science have a major shareholding in MACL following a NZ$53M investment in MACL over the next 30 months.
MACL chief executive officer Peter Coker says the agreement not only brings significant capital to drive forward the commercialisation of the Martin Jetpack, it also introduces a whole new research and development world of meta material technology and advanced simulation testing that enables product development “…that in our opinion is well beyond the capabilities of even some of the world’s best aircraft manufacturers”.
Also in December, MACL and US company, airborne first responder Avwatch, announced their partnership in developing airborne technology capabilities for the United States Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defence, and other federal, state, and local agencies.
The two companies will work together on improving specific capabilities targeted at assisting the first responder sector, including search and rescue, security, police, ambulance, fire, and natural disaster recovery through the purchase and supply of Martin Jetpacks and relevant products and services. Avwatch will utilise a number of Martin Jetpacks in the demonstration of potential capability to their customers. There is an opportunity to grow the partnership to service much of the North American market.
“It is an honour to be working with Avwatch and together creating the increased value that the Martin Jetpack can bring to Avwatch and to their associated US Government customers” Mr Coker says.
He says Martin Aircraft Company’s V4 engine was developed from the ground up as an aircraft engine to power the Martin Jetpack. “After searching the world for a suitable engine, and coming up short, we assembled a team of experienced engine designers and experts from around the globe.
“The engine we came up with, which is the initial power plant that will be developed further for production aircraft, has several key features that met our requirements at the time. It has a high power to weight ratio, it has exceptional reliability, and it has a flat torque curve,” he says.
The current specifications include a 2l or 122cu in displacement; 89mm bore; 79 mm stroke; 200hp @ 6000 rpm nominal performance; 180 ftlbs 3500–6000 rpm torque; 60 kg weight at 0.45mx0.5mx0.3m without accessories; and a 420W 12V generator. In addition, it has sequential fuel injection and dual CDI ignition. Its power system can achieve and maintain the desired distance, height, and weight loads and does so with consistent reliability and safety.
Mr Coker says the challenges the jetpack engineers have faced over the years of development have been many. In particular the identification and building of a suitable power plant has been a major focus. In addition the ducted fans have been through a number of iterations to arrive at the present design.
Prototype 12, which is now flying, will be the starting point for the commercialisation of the product through the preproduction aircraft. The production aircraft will incorporate a new flight system, improved drive train, improved engine, a ballistic parachute, and a redesigned undercarriage. All these features will be incrementally tested over the coming year and integrated into the initial commercial product.
To see the jetpack in action, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHPedpE70Es