There was a backup plan if things went wrong Monday when a man attempted to fly 1,500 feet across the Royal Gorge using a jet pack.

But it wasn't a good one.

"There is no parachute, there is no safety net," said the pilot, 45-year-old former stuntman Eric Scott, minutes before takeoff. "There is just 800 horsepower that should be able to get me there."

That was plan A. Plan B, if 800 horsepower didn't prove enough, involved falling short of the canyon rim, plunging into the shadowy abyss and trying to smash into one of the higher ledges to keep from hurtling the full 1,100 feet to the raging river below.

"I'm hoping I don't have to use those plans," Scott said.

A medical crew of three people clutching an inadequate-looking trauma bag and backboard looked as if they hoped so, too.

Scott is the pilot for Jetpack International, a Denver-based company, funded by Go Fast energy drink creator and Denver native Troy Widgery.

For years, Widgery and a few engineer buddies have been improving on the jet pack tested by Bell Aerosystems in the 1960s, hoping to realize the James Bond dream that they, and many people, had as kids.

The rocket pack (technically, it has no jet engine), which weighs 135 pounds fully fueled, runs on highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide.

The team has poured more than $2 million into prototypes. They now pay for part of the project by charging for promotional flights at events around the world.

When Widgery and company first started, the jet pack would fly only about 20 seconds.

By finding lighter materials and improving efficiency, they've been able to pump the flight time up to 33 seconds.

Still, that didn't leave any room for error Monday.

The weather was clear and still, but a freak wind could knock the jet pack off course.

And, the pilot said, "The thing glides like a brick."

Widgery paced anxiously, pounding at his BlackBerry just before the flight. He knew success would bring priceless attention to his mission and his products, but failure would almost certainly mean death.

When asked whether he was excited, he shook his head no.

The pilot's son, 20-year-old Jarrod Scott, stood on the suspension bridge spanning the gorge and said, "I get butterflies just thinking about it."

A crowd of hundreds leaned on the railings along the bridge.

Ramona Harwig had driven from Colorado Springs to watch.

"It just doesn't seem like a good idea," Harwig said.

"He seems like he knows what he is doing. But Evel Knievel thought he knew what he was doing, too, when he tried to jump the Snake River Canyon," she said, referring to the motorcycle stuntman who failed to clear a gorge in 1975 when a parachute he was wearing accidentally deployed.

"I hope he does make it," she said. "I would never be able to get that image out of my head."

At noon Scott stepped onto a platform on the northern lip of the gorge.

Between him and the end of the day was a lot of nothing with a very hard bottom.

"When you're staring at certain death, you have some concerns," he said later. "But you have to put that on the back shelf and focus."

In a quick puff of dust he took off full throttle, shooting through the sky like a missile.

The crowd on the bridge cheered.

As he neared the south rim, he pitched up like a hawk hovering over a field, checked his speed and set down light as a feather, breaking the jet pack distance record.

The safety crew, which had been standing by with fire extinguishers, surged in screaming, followed by gangs of video cameras from local and national TV crews. The flight had taken 21 seconds.

With his jet pack still steaming, Scott high-fived people in the crowd.

"I've never been so happy to have my feet on terra firma," he said. "It's good to be alive every day, and this is a new jet-pack record."

In the fray, Eric Strauss, one of the engineers who built the pack, beamed with his hands shaking.

"It could have run out of fuel. It could have blown up. This is awesome. We did it!" he said.

Reporters crowded in around the pilot.

"What's next?" one shouted.

Scott thought for a second, then said, "Champagne."

-

Contact the writer: 636-0223 dave.philipps@gazette.com

 

Tags

Load comments