It’s 2020: Where’s My Mandalorian Jet Pack?

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Will The 2020s Deliver Us the Future We Were Promised? I Want My Mandalorian Jet Pack!

I was born a year after Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was released in theaters. Childhood, for me, was spent dreaming of laser swords and space wizards. My two cousins, about four and five years older than me, respectively, both had all of the Star Wars toys I wanted to play with when I was growing up. In fact, one of my earliest childhood memories is of going to see Return of the Jedi in theaters with my grandfather and the aforementioned cousins. As a five-year-old, I wasn’t interested in the galactic struggle for independence, or even the revelation that Luke and Leia are twins. I cared about Ewoks and lightsaber fights. That was all I wanted to see. However, one other part of that movie stuck with me – Boba Fett and his Mandalorian Jet pack.

Yeah… But, “A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…”

I know. I hear you. “It ses rite their ‘a long time ago’ so the’yre case closed you dumby its not talking about the future!” Okay… Right. You got me. 

Except you didn’t. Let’s forget the fact that Star Wars is fiction for a moment and assume that it was Gospel instead. If that galaxy far, far away existed, it’s absolutely conceivable that our galaxy could evolve to the technological glory days of the Old Republic. After all, solar systems can last for billions of years. That’s plenty of time to invent the type of tech we see in the Star Wars universe.

As such, in the ’80s, Star Wars made pretty much all of us dream of real-life lightsabers, X-Wings and TIE fighters and holographic messages. And it didn’t matter that it was “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” We grew up thinking we’d have those things in this century. 

The Promise of the Future

And it wasn’t just Star Wars. So much of the “futuristic” entertainment I consumed during my formative years promised things that I’d expected to have right now. The Jetsons and Back to the Future made me dream of flying cars. And the latter, of course, made me expect hoverboards by the time I hit my fourth decade. I also thought we’d have jet packs. Other ideas, like Star Trek’s transporter technology seemed a little less plausible, but it was also a part of our vision of the future. So were the replicator, holograms, and robot/droid servants (also a big part of The Jetsons). 

What We Have Instead

So, here we are in 2020. Before I continue my sickeningly-privileged rant about all of the things I don’t have, let’s take a moment to appreciate what we do have. I’m typing this on a Chromebook that I bought for less money than my first NES video game console cost back in 1988. Because of the internet (which none of those movies imagined), a bunch of people all over the world will read my work. And of course, let’s not forget that most of us carry around computers in our pockets that are exponentially more powerful than the one that sent Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to the Moon in 1969.  We also have access to electric cars, finally. But not flying ones.

And that’s just it. Nobody’s figured out how to make a viable “flying car” yet. We haven’t cracked hoverboard-style levitation yet. Nor have we figured out how to run cars on garbage—Mr. Fusion-style. Finally, and perhaps most sadly, I can’t buy a functional Mandalorian jet pack, no matter how much money I have. Or can I?

Does This Count?

Okay, so as freakin’ sweet as that is, there are a couple of pretty big caveats to this jet pack design, known as the Jetwing from Jetman Dubai, right now. 

First, the pilots must take off from a helicopter or other type of flying vehicle in order to fly. They can’t take off from the ground. The reason for that is down to thrust. It takes a lot of thrust to get weight off of the ground. Each of these jet pack prototypes weighs 330 lbs, and even a fit adult will add around another 150 lbs to the equation, if not more when you account for gear.  The amount of thrust required for a vertical takeoff from the ground exceeds the capabilities of the engines’ capabilities. 

The Jetwing uses two JetCat P400 Pro engines, which provide about 180 pounds of thrust combined. And adding more engines would add more weight, which then requires more thrust. And the cycle continues. 

Still, this is the closest we’ve come.

Hold On… A Mandalorian Jet pack Sounds Awesome, but… Jeff Goldblum:

Artist's rendition of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park

Artist’s rendition of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park

“Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should!”

So, Should I Have a Mandalorian Jet pack?

Well, let’s have a little fun with this, shall we? The twelve-year-old me says “Of course I should have a fracking jet pack!” In fact, every time I’m stuck in traffic on I-90 my twelve-year-old self says that—along with a lot of expletives, both verbal and non-verbal. But with a jet pack, I could soar above it all and zoom my way across town in minutes. I’d be free as a bird. 

Until everyone else got a fracking jet pack, too. 

Yeah. So right now we have a 2D system of transportation laid out on grids like streets and railroads. If you want to go 3D, you need to buy a ticket, get your privacy invaded by the TSA, and be herded like a cow onto an airbus. Compared to the number of cars and even trains out there, airplanes aren’t very common. They run on a very tightly regulated schedule to ensure the safety of passengers and civilians on the ground alike. They are controlled by highly skilled tower operators who direct traffic and keep collisions from happening. Nevertheless, accidents happen and people die in plane crashes every year. Trains are stuck to their rails, and they still crash, too.

Then There Are Cars

Those cases are relatively rare, however, because planes and trains are driven by professionals. With cars, however, we have lights and medians and paint on the road, but that does little to stop licensed drivers from acting like complete maniacs every day (I’m pointing the finger at myself, here, btw. I’m a nightmare behind the wheel.) As such, over 40,000 people a year die in car accidents.

That’s in a 2D grid system where the pathways are clearly laid out and intersections are well-regulated. It’s also worth noting that there are an estimated 272.5 million vehicles on the American roadway today. If personal jet packs became as ubiquitous as the automobile, the death toll from in-flight collisions, vehicle breakdowns, drunk/high/distracted flying, and simple human idiocy would likely skyrocket—if you’ll forgive the pun. 

When you’re driving a car, you have to check ahead and behind and left and right. If you were flying a Mandalorian jet pack to work, you’d also have to worry about above and below. I don’t know about you, but I live in a mid-sized city, and I get cut off from the left and right enough. I don’t want to worry about some moron pulling up and cutting me off from below… or above.  

Okay, So We Probably Shouldn’t… But Could We?

Well, as you saw in the video above, we’re pretty heckin’ close. Advances in rocketry over the past decade have been staggering. In fact, most commercial space manufacturers designed reusable rocket technology that uses smaller engines, similar to those on the Dubai jet packs. It is, perhaps, inevitable, then, that we’ll see personal jet packs become normal in the not-so-distant future.

So the tech will be there, but presumably, so will the law. Just as road regulations have tightened up in the century or so that we’ve been driving, the laws governing jet pack flight would also need to be tightened up (or, you know, be created in the first place). 

At first thought, it may seem impossible to try and regulate a couple hundred million personal jet packs. However, that’s the thing about tech. If the demand for the jet pack is there, then there’ll be a demand for the infrastructure to support them—and that includes laws and police to enforce those laws.  

Some Other Practical Obstacles:

The Jetwing’s engines are jet engines, not rockets, which helps in terms of safety. However, they still operate by propelling fire and hot gasses out of the rear port, which always happens to be precariously close to the legs or some other body part. 

It’s here that I’d like to pause and reinforce the idea of unintended consequences in the realm of new tech. Here’s an answer to the question, “Why can’t I have a lightsaber?”

 

 

Outcomes of owning a real lightsaber

Outcomes of owning a real lightsaber.

So yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d burn a leg or an arm off the first time I tried to take off in a jet pack. On the other hand, the Jetwing design seems to have solved that issue by placing the engines far enough away from the pilot. So, if they can figure out how to make it take off from the ground, maybe I could fly one after all.

If I Had a Million Dollars…

Well, actually, at the moment, even if I had a million dollars, I probably wouldn’t spend 1.5% of it on a Jetwing. For the near future, anyway, that’s the ballpark in which we’re playing. Supercar territory. And if that’s the way the cost stays, then I guess we won’t have to worry about too many mid-air collisions. 

On the other hand, if a new Henry Ford comes along and makes the Model-T of jet packs, we may be into a whole new frontier, boys and girls. One filled with Mandalorian jet packs.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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