There are still experiences in the Hydroflight world that H2RO Magazine has yet to represent properly and one of them is the Jetpack. Jetpacks are the original Hydroflight device and yet they fly in the shadow of the underfoot phenomenon that now dominates the vertical water sports landscape. The Jetpack most certainly had an opportunity to become the first phenomenon but the company bringing this experience to market immediately kinked its hose and has never recovered. Raymond Li began developing the concept in 2000 and under the name Jetlev (abbreviated from Jet Levitation) began to develop the first Jetpack back in 2006. We’ve included at the bottom of this post a fantastic timeline created by our friends at X-Jets which includes this video of Raymond Li and Frazier Grandison attempting the first flights.
Raymond Li and Frazier G, first flights with the “Coffin” pump boat
Frazier Grandison issuing the commands in the background over the sound of an angry little 2 stroke engine. “it’s going to take some f**king training for someone to ride this f**ker” 🙂 Commentary in the video mentions the date of February 19th
Eventually in 2009 the Jetlev-Flyer is set to go into production and is priced at 99,000 euros (approx $150,000 usd) the YouTube promo video below comes out and further sparks the imaginations of our industry’s current leaders. The problem is the product doesn’t ship and between 2009 and 2011 the hydroflight baton had been inadvertently passed.
Jetlev may have moved the ball a few yards down the field but now the only game we see them playing is the lawsuit game. Attempting to revise patent language and take back an industry that has flown on without them. It is the companies in the game now that are going to be scoring the touchdowns for the foreseeable future. X-Jets (aka Stratospheric Industries Inc) is one of those companies having truly given hydroflight athletes an exciting and superior Jetpack experience. One such athlete is Sandy Burns. Sandy flies the X-Jetpack and was the perfect person for us to connect with and learn from. When he replied to my interview questions this was the opening line of his email:
H2RO MAGAZINE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – SANDY BURNS
H2RO) Sandy, please start by sharing your professional background and how you got involved in Hydroflight sports?
I will be 56yrs old this year. I grew up a farmers son along with my two brothers. I remember watching my dad flying a crop duster over our fields when I was around 5 yrs old and I was mesmerized. From that point I knew I wanted to fly. He took me up in a small plane and I still remember the excitement being in the air. That was my first taste of flight and I couldn’t wait to grow up to be a pilot. A few years later I saw on TV a man with this Jetpack from the Air Force. I knew right then that by the time I am 20 I will get one. In the 60s we thought everyone would be flying around with Jetpacks or flying cars. From that point on my biggest wish was to fly a Jetpack. Time went on and no Jetpacks were invented yet so I got my pilots license in 1983 and did some aerobatic flying and still fly now and then.
5 yrs ago I was in a position to semi retire so I moved to South Padre Island. It didn’t take long to hate not having something to do. Slowly over the next two years I became a hermit in my man cave. My arthritis became so painful I would constantly take strong pain medication along with injections. Along with that sets in depression. I had given up and was just going to wait to die. Three years ago my dad died. He was my rock, my best friend who meant everything to me. Even though he left us in a comfortable lifestyle, my depression grew . Then I saw the Jetlev Jetpack on television. I knew I had to do something to get me back to living so I contacted them and placed my order. Long story short I paid for it 2 yrs ago and never received it. Depressed again my wife found a company called X-Jetpacks. And 5 days later there it was, I finally had a Jetpack! I contacted the instructor and in no time I was finally flying. I went from a depressed hermit that could hardly lift 50 lbs to a superhero on top of the world. I am now completely off of pain medications and no more injections. Not only do I enjoy flying, I love performing and seeing the joy and awe from everyone watching.
H2RO) Awesome in every way! I’m not sure how much of a Jetpack historian you are but if you could share some background on the Jetpack and it’s evolution to present day that would be great? Also, what product do you fly currently and are you exclusive to that equipment or do you experiment with different products?
As far as history of Jetpacks I am not very informed other than I think it started back in the 50s by the Air Force. Then about 5 yrs ago someone designed a Jetpack that could be used using water. Then designed a Jetpack that could connect to a jet ski. At present, only one company sells Jetpacks. X-Jetpacks based in China. (and starting at the end of this month Zapata Racing will release their Jetpack) Jetlev somehow is still taking orders under a different name but still has no product. Me along with several others have a lawsuit against them. I am loyal to X-Jetpacks and continue to help modify and test new models. I also have the X-Jetblade which is the standup type device which has received great reviews.
H2RO) Sandy, what is it about the Jetpack experience that made you want to focus your flying on it? What’s cool about flying a Jetpack?
The reason I enjoy the Jetpack over the standup I would say has a lot to do with my generation. We grew up during the first space exploration and that’s where I first saw any kind of Jetpack. My age has some bearing on it as well. Back problems, arthritis etc. the Jetpack does not strain my joints. It is an absolute joy to be able to fly 40-50ft above the water with complete control. Not to mention it’s great exercise.
H2RO) If you haven’t already expanded on these areas it would be great to learn more about what makes the Jetpack different from other Hydroflight experiences when it comes to:
A) PWC power requirements
B) Specific parts and equipment that may differ from other devices.
C) Speeds and heights achievable when flying.
D) Tricks that can be performed with the device.
There are a few differences with the Jetpack vs other devices:
A) PWC should have at least 150hp and many companies that rent out hydro devices can use the minimum hp. More advanced flyers will have around 260 hp jet skis.
B) Not all devices are compatible. Hoses are pretty much the same but connectors are different.
C) My jet ski has 215hp and with my weight of 155 I can easily get full extension of hose. There are several length of hose to choose. I mainly use a 63ft as do most pro flyers. Which will get me close to 45ft high. The big difference between Jetpack and standup is forward speed. Jetpacks can travel forward at 20-35mph. The standup type is not made for forward speeds.
D) There are tricks that can be done with the Jetpack. Forward barrel roles, tight vertical twists, helicopter on top of hose, flying backwards and back flips. However I have not done the back flip on purpose as of yet lol.
H2RO) Why do you think the JetPack, which was the first personal Hydroflight experience to be made available to the public, has appeared to fall behind the other experiences in terms of the public’s adoption of the activity?
Jetlev was the first Jetpack hydro device to come out and their first models had their own power pod (a small boat like unit with motor inside) that was at a cost of $100k. Then when they came out with a Jetpack that can be attached to a jet ski, people like me placed our orders and paid for a product that Jetlev never made. At the same time the Flyboard (stand up) was developed and available. So my thought is because of the actions of Jetlev the Jetpack became less appealing. By the time X-Jetpacks came out with their version, the Flyboard had already established a big following. Then came the movie Iron Man. So now there are so many new style underfoot devices and so much more publicity that the Jetpack has fallen behind. I have seen a couple of new Jetpacks being developed and I believe it will still be a big part of Hydroflight. But this younger generation can do things on the standup devices that almost seems impossible.
H2RO) You have some awesome photos doing night shows in your Jetpack, can you share some of the led/light innovations that go into your set up and what the show experiences have been like for you?
I had seen a video on YouTube showing a guy on a standup device wearing an LED suit at night, his name is Ben Merrell and I wanted one of those suits. I contacted Jeffrey Lee Elkins in Florida. He has spent years developing a waterproof LED suit and has perfected it. We got together and I told him I wanted to add lights to my Jetpack as well as a suit. His eyes lit up and we came up with a design. He was able to develop what was needed to light up my pack. My thrust lighting alone has 400watts of LEDs. This was the first Jetpack in the world with that much lighting and people took notice. We are now working on a new version of LED lighting for the Jetpack that will blow your mind. Jeff also developed a remote throttle system (Flytronics) for my Jetpack and that makes flying that much better. No more trying to communicate with the person on jet ski to throttle correctly. I now have complete control. Night flight is the ultimate experience and with the lighting system I have, spectators ask me all the time how I make flames. They can’t believe it’s all lights.
H2RO) Finally, what do you see the future for the JetPack being? There is constant innovation going on with new devices and the public is being presented with more and more choice. How will the Jetpack experience ensure it remains a relevant and exciting option for both recreational and professional use?
This is just the beginning of Hydroflight products. The Jetpack will continue to advance and I see it being a big part in the future. I have instructed many people young and old and they all loved the experience. As long as there are people who have a desire to fly and more importantly the desire to live life to its fullest there will be a Jetpack and several other hydro devices for years to come.
We have something in store for the world to see. Hopefully we will have it perfected by this fall. Also, I wanted to mention that everyone I have talked to or met in this sport are the nicest down to earth people you could ever meet. It’s a real joy to be a part of this group!
Thank you Sandy for sharing your story and continuing to inspire young and old to want to fly. Your Jetpack really does look incredible lit up!
As I mentioned earlier below is the hydro sport timeline created by X-Jets and we take a look at the new Jetpack by ZR.
Hydro Sport History – Created by X-Jets
This great timeline was created by X-Jets and we encourage you to check out their company and enjoy the experiences they’ve created.
World’s First Jetpack Freestyle Champion
Hydro Fest 2016 saw the world’s first Jetpack freestyle competition go down and the flying was exceptional. Winning this first event and now forever known as the first Jetpack World Champion was Jesse Orlando. Here is his highlight video and we look forward to seeing him fly many more times!
Zapata Racing Jetpack by ZR®
With a release date of July 20th, 2015, Zapata Racing is officially in the Jetpack business. Along with the new Pro Series Flyboard the Jetpack by ZR® utilizes their latest transparent hydraulic technologies and ultra-modern design. It is equipped with a 5 point harness as well as a release clip triggered by finger pressure. The fact that the largest hydroflight manufacturer is now bring the Jetpack experience to their huge distribution base means we will be seeing a swift increase in the number of seated flyers.
As Sandy mentioned there is a whole generation captivated with the Jetpack and many more who will find the experience much more to their liking physically. So whether you fly the new ZR Jetpack or soar in the X-Jetpack the dream of flight will be your reality and the world of hydroflight sports will need to make a little more room for this original gangsta.
Hey! We want to hear what you have to say about these Jetpack products and the flying experience. Have you ever flown a Jetpack? Now that Zapata Racing has the Jetpack as a rental option do you believe a whole new demographic will get in on the hydroflight phenomenon?
H2RO is excited to continue to bring you articles highlighting the amazing products that make up vertical water sports. Up next we will look at Jetavation Inc and all of their incredible rides.
Until then, fly safe, fly often!
UPDATE: Just came across this article on the world’s first commercial Jetpack that will cost $150,000 and come out next year. As they mention in the article, beyond the millionaires having fun with new toys it will be interesting to see the uses a transportation option like this might have for first responders and emergency services.
UPDATE: Check out this Jetpack flight in New York City.