Being extremely unhandy, I find the people in our industry that do possess the ability to build and fix things to have awesome superpowers. There are many brilliant inventor/engineering types in Hydroflight and one that everyone in the game knows well is Jeff Elkins. Jeff has been positively impacting the world of Hydroflight since 2013 and we are stoked to finally formally introduce him to our readers.
Your world will literally be brighter once you start hanging out with this guy!
H2RO MAGAZINE INTERVIEW WITH JEFF ELKINS
H2RO) People in our industry know or have heard of you but for our readers who don’t yet tell us your background and how you first became involved in the world of Hydroflight?
I am 54 years old, I am originally from Michigan and I now live in Florida. I am married to my beautiful wife Dawn, together we have 7 children and 10 grandchildren. I graduated from college in 1983 with a degree in electronics. Over the years, I have been involved in repair, design, and development of many different electronic systems ranging from consumer electronics to avionics and guidance systems.
For about 25 years I have been a machinist. Over the past 10 years, I have been heavily involved in robotics and embedded microprocessor based systems. For about 5 years I have been involved in CAD design and 3D printing.
In 2013 was on a trip to St. Maarten, I saw a man Flyboarding and knew I had to try it.
When I got home, I reached out to Ben Merrell who taught me on the Flyboard. We became friends and have been working together ever since.
H2RO) In every way, you live up to the title ‘Mad Scientist’ with the high-tech lab and crazy inventions quickly run us through all the projects you have going on and then we’ll dive deeper?
1.F4-Flight controller remote control system.
2. Waterproof LED suits.
4. Night-time Hydroflight shows (Jetpack Invasion).
5. Electric Airboard.
6. Plasma cannons.
7. Hydroflight productions with Gulf Coast State College.
H2RO) So first let’s talk Jetpack Invasion and say a big congratulations on your new relationship with SeaWorld in San Diego! Before we get to those details take us back and tell us how Jetpack Invasion started, some of the highlights to date and then drop all the exciting SeaWorld news on us.
One day I was flying in Destin with Ben it was getting dark and I said, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could fly at night?” I told Ben I was going to make a suit with lights on it (to which he laughed- he didn’t know me very well at the time). About a month later I showed up with the first LED suit.
Ben was in shock. We tried out the new suit and it was amazing and a large crowd gathered. We knew we were on to something awesome. I built a couple more suits and Ben called me one day about a guy in Texas named Sandy Burns. Unlike Ben, Sandy flew a Jetpack and he wanted a ridiculous lighting system and suit for it.
When Sandy’s system was completed we arranged a test in Destin. Sandy flew for the first time and it was breathtaking. Just so happened to be another jet packer there named Mike Helton. He wanted me to do the same thing to his Jetpack, which we did. This made Sandy want his to be more dramatic. I had had some ideas for spraying water into the air from the jetpack nozzles, so I created a sprayer system and attached it to Sandy’s pack. My intentions were to create an “X” of water and light as Sandy flew. The first test was at a show in Jacksonville, Florida. We had done some preliminary daytime testing but had never really seen what it looked like at night.
When Sandy pulled the handle and the water sprayed upward, no one could believe what they saw. It was a perfect set of angel wing 30 feet above Sandy’s head. Mike Helton saw Sandy’s angel wings and had to have some for himself. Since then we have included lasers, fire breathing, a crazy wizard, and other characters in the Jetpack Invasion show.
For SeaWorld, this year, we will be producing LED suits for the cast of Cirque Electrique. A new night time aquatic acrobatic and Hydroflight show starring Jake Orel and Ryan Lorence. We are working on relationships with SeaWorld Orlando as well as SeaWorld San Antonio. There is more information that we are not able to share now, but let’s just say, it’s going to be a very good year.
H2RO) You may have already educated us on this but ‘Liquid Motion Lights’ what tech has been going into the newest suits you’ve been creating?
Liquid Motion Lights has been hard at work creating next level waterproof LED systems. From crazy helmets to ultra-durable suits, multi-colored thruster lights, wifi control systems, a giant wizard character and platform and our latest creation, the gesture control LED suit. The gesture control LED suit works by detecting movement of the person wearing it and produces light and color patterns based on those movements.
For an example- if you do a backflip, the suit will detect the motion and will play back a pre-defined light pattern and color for that particular movement.
H2RO) Parallel to the excitement on the water, you have been sharing the progress of your Airboard as well. We’ve seen Sonya Eaves learning to pilot your new flying machine. Tell us what you can about the project, the board itself and where you hope to take it?
I got a call from another guy in Texas, named Ricky who asked me if I could build a giant drone that a person could ride on. Of course I said “yes” and it is progressing very well. The board is called an octocopter. It uses electric motors, and large propellers, as well as a stabilization system. It is a proof of concept and we are just getting to the point where a pilot can maneuver around and control angle and direction as well as altitude. Our first pilot was Ben Merrell and then Sonya Eaves. Currently we are working with Mariah Cain. There are a few more names in the pilot pool who will be giving it a shot this year. The goal for this device is safe, easily controllable flight for anyone.
H2RO) Overall what do you make of this aerial evolution that is going on right now? Multiple working versions of Jetpacks, the Flyboard Air, drones big enough to carry people what will this all mean eventually to the general public?
I really like the term ‘aerial evolution’ because that IS what is happening. I have been studying jetpacks my whole life. Most of the reason for the current spike in personal flight devices is because of two relatively new technologies. Mini turbine engines and lithium ion batteries. From David Mayman’s JB10 jetpack and Franky Zapata’s Flyboard Air, to even our own electric Airboard, personal flight has been a dream of men from the beginning of time. I think we are very fortunate to be living in the era of aerial evolution. As far as what this would mean to the general public, it is hard to say. I think that the most daring among us won’t hesitate to climb aboard one of these awesome devices but the days of mass aerial transportation are still a long way off.
H2RO) Switching back to the water. Everyone who flew at Hydro Fest seemed very happy with the performance of your Flytronics wireless remote. How has that product progressed and what are your business expectations for it in 2017?
We have had some really positive feedback from people who are using the F4 flight controller. I love the performance and the way that it feels. One of my favorite things is something we call ‘safe fall’. We are continuing to upgrade the hardware and the software to make the best product we can. Now that most jetskis use throttle by wire systems, we are working on our direct drive system that eliminates the need for a servo motor. We expect to continue to make the F4 and provide a quality product to anyone who wants it.
H2RO) Once we saw the sneak peek of your lab we have wanted to ask you what is the craziest idea you’ve tried to build or have built?
Where to begin…there are so many crazy things I have created or tried to create. The latest one, I rotated a U-pipe straight up behind the jetski and shot water 20 feet in the air and talked Ben into trying to ride it like a broken fire hydrant. It was not very successful. You just never know what I will come up with. I’m always thinking and creating. Like for instance, a 7-foot-tall wizard character standing on a 12 foot diameter spinning portal of LEDs or maybe an air cannon that shoots simulated plasma rounds. I’ve built prosthetic hands, interactive video games, a martial arts training system and so many more I can’t remember them all.
H2RO) Going into the 2017 season here in North America what are your hopes for the industry, the competitive sport of Hydroflight and the athletes this year?
My biggest hope is that as a group we can find a way to put our differences behind us and move on to a brighter future for Hydroflight. This is still a young sport, and it is still going through some growing pains. I feel like 2017 is going to be the year that we turn the corner and become unified for the betterment of the sport we love.
H2RO) We are hoping for that right along with you. Alright Jeff, any shout outs you want to give to your supporters?
There are SO many people that make this sport great. Mr. Raymond Li who gave us Hydroflight. Mr. Franky Zapata who brought it to the world’s attention and made it grow exponentially. Shaw Norris who gave us a dependable jetpack. Rob Innes and the people at Jetovator who gave us three nozzles to play with. Nick Homer, Ryan Lorence, and my crew at Jetpack Invasion Sandy Burns, Leslie Burns, Mike Helton, Jill Helton, Amber Merrell, Brandon Landis, Troy Stowe, and everyone who has helped with the shows. There are two very special people I would like to acknowledge, the love of my life, Dawn Elkins, and my best friend, Ben Merrell. My life is the best it’s ever been and it wouldn’t be possible without the people within this group. Thank you to each one of you!
Jeff, you are certainly a brilliant dude with a fantastic support group and seven freakin’ kids… that’s the most impressive achievement! We loved our first night show experience at Hydro Fest and look forward to seeing you and your creations again real soon.
Thank you for your time,