Brad Feld

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Why The FAA Does Not Regulate Jetpacks

Mar 08, 2009

I have always wanted a jetpack.  From one of my favorite West Wing exchanges (among many) in "The West Wing: The Warfare of Genghis Khan (#5.13)" (2004):

Leo McGarry: My generation never got the future it was promised… Thirty-five years later, cars, air travel is exactly the same. We don’t even have the Concorde anymore. Technology stopped.
Josh Lyman: The personal computer…
Leo McGarry: A more efficient delivery system for gossip and pornography? Where’s my jet pack, my colonies on the Moon?

Our infamous friend the jetpack is explored in today’s WSJ in an article titled The Jetpack: An Idea Whose Time Has Never Come, but Won’t Go AwayBuried down deep in the article is the insight that the FAA does not regulate jetpacks since, according to FAA spokesman Les Dorr “Thirty seconds is not sufficient to be considered a flight.”

My good friend Bruce Wyman pointed out to me that – according to Wikipedia – “The first flight, by Orville, of 120 feet (36.5 m) in 12 seconds, at a speed of only 6.8 mph over the ground, was recorded in a famous photograph.”  How ironic – I guess the FAA wouldn’t consider the first flight to be the first flight.

And – just to show that US inventors don’t have a non-monopoly on jetpacks, @tonybain pointed me to an article on a jetpack being invented in New Zealand by Glenn Martin.  Jetpack innovation apparently knows no geographic bounds, but per Leo McGarry, has been a long time coming.