A jetpack is a fundamentally fictional invention, although as we'll see later some rather impractical models have been constructed. Although it is difficult to say who first thought up the jetpack, what with it being essentially an idea rather than an actual thing, it's reasonable enough to presume that it could not have been conceived too far before the widespread use of rocket power. Although known in Western warfare since its introduction from the East in the thirteenth century, the rocket was something more of a novelty in European warfare than anything else, not unlike the gun when it was first introduced. It really entered the modern age of rocketry (that is, it began to look and act more like a space shuttle than a bottle rocket) with the advent of the German V-2 rocket during World War II.

This also places the jetpack's first appearance right around the time in which science fiction was really gaining legitimacy and relevance within American culture, namely the 1950's. At the same time as America started using terms like "The Jet Age" and "The Space Age" to optimistically describe the time of technological advances and social change that they hoped would somehow fire us all into the next millenium at breakneck speed, the constant threat of nuclear annihilation led many young authors to ponder the what-if's that their new postwar world entailed. Both of these ingredients hit one another at the right time, and since then it's been rare to see either jetpacks or science fiction apart from the other. In fact, when one passed on into the realm of camp, the other one did as well, which is why they can both now be seen on the consciously campy Futurama every week.

The archetypical jetpack is typically an amalgam of a rocket and a backpack worn, obviously enough, on its user's back. Any jetpack worth its salt is a tool for flying, first and foremost, and the most common method of becoming airborne is via some sort of flames or other force, such as the Jetsons' little force-ring things, being projected down and to the rear (which to me always seemed like a great way to light one's ass on fire). This is not to say that this is the only way of imagining a jetpack. After all, its fictionality does nothing if not inspire reimagination. One of the more innovative designs I've seen belonged to these two very obscure DC Comics superheroes from the '60's who lived in a shrunken Kryptonian city-in-a-bottle in Superman's Fortress of Solitude. These two, whose names have slipped my mind in the ten years since I read the comic (/msg if you remember), wore AA battery-sized cylinders mounted on rods that stuck out over each hip. These little cylinders shot fire downward, allowing them to fly around the shrunken alien burg righting tiny little wrongs.

The most prominent place the jetpack has ever found in any work to my knowledge is in The Rocketeer, which is both a recent movie (1991) and a comic book. Although it's been some time since I've seen said movie, I'll try to recollect it here as well as possible. The young hero, one Cliff Secord, played by Bill Campbell, stumbles onto a jetpack. The movie then trots out all the old superhero movie conventions such as heroic self-doubt, poor superpower control, a love interest, and gangsters. At the end, though, the Rocketeer hero and the gangsters both team up to defeat some Nazis who I think wanted the jetpack back for themselves. The jetpack pretty much makes the movie here in the sense that it's really the focal point of all of the action. Without a jetpack, there's really no reason to make The Rocketeer in the first place.

Although the jetpack is fundamentally a fictional invention, there are those who think that the idea of personal flight devices is pretty neat. One such group, Powerhouse Productions, Inc., has constructed an actual working jetpack, which they call the Rocketbelt. They have a couple of pilots, and you can apparently hire these pilots to do appearances with the jetpack at your corporate retreat, celebration, or stratospheric bar mitzvah, according to the website. Here's an amusing excerpt from their website:

"Carried aloft by a thunderous blend of science and technology,
The Rocketman captures the imagination of audiences worldwide.

The Rocketman is a great way to endorse any product.
The creation of your own character can really enhance and personalize your Rocketman Performance.

The Rocketman can ensure your message will rise above the rest and thrust you to the top!"

Although I'll probably be chuckling about "a thunderous blend of science and technology" for years to come, I have seen this jetpack twice on television, and I have to admit that it's pretty cool. This is especially true when they're flying it through a rollercoaster loop at the same time as the train is going around it. Although the item itself looks quite goofy indeed (http://www.rocketmaninc.com/images/Egypt-2.jpg, if you don't believe me), I'm not going to tell you I don't want one. Personal flight seems like an incredibly cool prospect, and I guarantee I'd buy one if I had the money.

They'd have to figure out a way to not char my ass off, though.

Sources: http://www.invent.org/book/book-text/46.html,

The reason jetpacks never really caught on is based on the confluence of technical issues. First of all, we live on the Earth. That's a 1-Gee gravitational pull and folks that's a lot of gravity. Almost all aircraft fly using aerodynamic lift. Jet packs fly using thrust. While rockets capable of supporting a human being have existed since the days Robert Goddard, they burn lots of fuel, more than can efficiently be carried by a human. It's not like they can shut the motor off and glide for a while. And if the motor has a failure, the thing crashes, probably killing the pilot.

The second issue is steering and stability. NASA built one back in the fifties, and it worked. Barely.

The key issue is that most aircraft steer themselves and control their attitude by moving some aerodynamic surface, such as the synchronized use of rudders and aileron. The shape itself can offer stability. But a jet pack with enough control surfaces to fly that way is no longer a jetpack, it's an ultralight with the pilot as the landing gear. People got hurt. The stability issue was partly tamed with the use of gyroscopes, but they were almost impossible to fly. Taking off and landing again proved all experienced pilots could manage, nothing at all like Dave Stevens' character, The Rocketeer. The NASA program ended long before the modern computer era, so a fly-by-wire design should work better. However, it would still use the attitude jet control system, which means steering would consume even more fuel.

The third problem was bulk. Rocket exhausts tend to be hot, and it would not be good to char grill your intrepid young birdman. NASA was forced to move the flight jets away from the pilot. The attitude jets were also spread out for greater efficiency, so the old system was about six feet wide.

The combination of these factors makes jetpacks impractical for the foreseeable future. They were expensive, too large and heavy to carry around, and offer too little maneuverability and endurance to be worthwhile. Other systems work better. So we can build one, but the question is why?

Adept Software's Jetpack is an ordinary run-of-the mill no frills platform shareware game from the BBS and 2400 baud modem era. Its graphics are either VGA mode or in very low-resolution CGA modes which mean that even 8086 processor computers with an elementary graphic card can run it. This game, however, has stood the test of time and is worth playing on a modern 1ghz and plus processor because the gameplay is extraordinary.

A typical jetpack level features a small finger nail sized guy who must collect a number of green gems to beat the level. He can walk from platform to platform, or when the jetpack strapped across his back is fueled, fly from one platfrom to another. However, this can get extremely difficult because the very platforms he runs on are bound to crush him. In some very difficult levels, some platforms are made of blocks that can be made to appear or disappear based on whether an enemy hits a switch. So here you are walking along trying to colelct your gems when one of the enemies, a big rolling steel ball makes the platform you walk on suddenly disappear and makes you fall on an icy spike beneath it.

This is just one small example of the 100s of factors that can complicate gameplay in Jetpack. If they sound difficult one of their own, just wait until you get to an advanced level when they are all combined into a deadly threat that will force you to spend hours trying to win.

On some levels, the rolling crushing steel balls travel via teleporters giving you the feeling they are bouncing around the screen at a super-fast speed like some kind of robotic maniacs. The teleporter is one of those fascinating features of the game. Once you step on a space that has a teleporter, it takes you to another geographical location within the screen that has a teleporter of the same color. In some levels, the teleporters make enemies move around randomly all over the screen so that you can hardly anticipate them. In one particular level, there are 20 same colored teleporters placed in the air and on the ground along with about 20 steel balls using them. This means, wherever a player happens to be at the moment, a procession of steel balls is likely to drop out of any one of those 20 teleporters to ruthlessly crush him. There are some levels that feature teleporters for the use of rockets who also tend to pop out in a procession out of any given teleporter.

Another wonderful feature of the game that makes gameplay pretty complicated is the use of blocks to create labyrinths. If you have a level in which a player has to has to collect his gems by entering one brick-enclosed space after another, that gives the enemies much more room to try to kill him. In some levels, the Jetpack guy has no room to fly around to collect his gems, but has to walk through spaces in which the bricks are directly below him and above. That restricts his movement so much that he can't even jump. Or perhaps he can jump up just a little bit. Either way, when the player is trapped in those brick spaces, he can't easily avoid the steel balls nor the rockets.

Therefore, the most difficult parts of the gameplay involve sequences in which a rocket or a steel ball flies back and forth in a restricted space in which a player can't jump and he has to hide in corners, jump or fly over the rocket or the steel ball. At times, you have to hold the Jetpack guy in the air while the rocket whizzes by, pick up the gem after it's gone, and run or fly away from it at a fast speed when it's on it's way back and about to hit you. The beginning levels avoid the use of these restricted spaces in which you have to maneuver your jetpack guy around these rockets or steel balls. Judging by the first few levels, you can hardly anticipate how difficult the game later becomes. That's why, when using the game's built-in level editor to create your own levels, you have a lot of control in how easy or difficult the gameplay can become.

The game is still available for download at http://www.adeptsoftware.com/jetpack. Though it it used to be shareware, it is now freeware.

P.S: I have not listed all of the game's enemies, nor have I explained all of its many features. However, I hope I've given enough of a taste of it that to interest you in playing it. I've marveled at the complex arrangements of blocks and enemies in this platform game and I hope you also find it challenging and complicated enough to devote a few hours of your time playing it.

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