Updated: August 28, 2018
JET PACK PHOTO GALLERY #01
Three tanks mounted on a form-fitting strapped fibreglas
jacket or corset worn by the rocket belt user. The middle tank
contain the pressurizing gas (nitrogen) while the other two
hold the fuel (hydrogen peroxide). Jutting from the tanks and
leading outward at each side of the operator are curved pipes
with the small nozzles protruding downwards on each end, while
two other, smaller pipes protrude under each of the operator's
arms and have motorcycle-like handle grips for the throttle
and directional control. For safety's sake, the operator has
to wear coveralls, a crash helmet, and boots. The propellant
is 90% hydrogen peroxide. High pressure nitrogen gas is turned
on by a valve at the side and forces the peroxide over a
small, built-in catalyst bed which decomposes the peroxide out
through the nozzles as a powerful, non-combusting steam
exhaust. Pitch and roll are controlled by movements of the
Width: about 18.5 in.
Len.: about 3 ft.
Wt. (loaded): 125 lbs
Thrust: 0-300 lbs
The concept of a rocket belt stretches back to science fiction
of the late 1920's comic strip hero "Buck Rogers" who is
supposed to have travelled this way in the far future. During
the same period, an unknown young and foolhardy German
inventor attempted to roller skate more rapidly than usual by
attaching a pack of solid-fuel (gunpowder) rockets on his
back. The all-too brief experiment was captured in the
newsreels of the early 1930's and shows his embarrassed quick
and hard landing on the ground.
Similar rocket-propelled ice skaters tried the stunt with like
results. A rocket belt was also featured in several movie serials
of the late 1940's, notably, "King of the Rocket Men" (Republic
Pictures, 1949). Technically speaking, the idea of a workable
rocket belt is credited to Wendell Moore, an engineer with Bell
Aerosystems in 1953. Moore then called the device the un-romantic
name of Small Rocket Lift Device, or SRLD. (Ironically, an earlier
concept of a rocket belt was conceived from about 1948 by
another engineer named Moore, who was unrelated to Wendell,
and whose first was name was Tom, though his efforts are less
well documented. Some tests were made by the Army in the early
1950's at Redstone Arsenal but did not lead anywhere.)
Meanwhile, Wendell Moore and his colleagues saw this as a
great technical challenge since they had to contend with the
problem of achieving stability of a man using the device. They
also considerable time work out the positions of the small
thrust nozzles for maximum efficiency and safety.
A nitrogen gas-powered rig was first built and made entirely
of steel tubing. The nozzles pointed downwards and fitted with
small thrust control valves. The device was tethered by a 15
ft flexible hose to a control system worked on the ground by a
test engineer on the ground operating the valves which
increased or decreased the nitrogen flow. It was found that
the flex hose restrained the users's movements.
Wendell Moore himself tried out the first self-operated
version in 1958, though there were ropes attached to control
any unexpected violent manoeuver. The hops were short and
rough but did succeed. In time, arm-control levers and other
refinements were added, but instability was still encountered
in which one of the flying test engineers was almost injured.
Eventually a stable flight and height of 15 ft was reached.
The U.S, Army began to show interest in the device by 1959 and
requested a study program. Another aerospace company,
Aerojet-General, was contracted to undertake one of these
studies. Reaction Motors, Inc. (RMI) likewise began
experimenting with similar rocket belts.
The Army negotiated with Bell for the fabrication of the SRLD
and a contract was awarded to the Army's Transportation,
Research and Engineering Command (TRECOM) for military
feasibility studies and trials. Moore was named Bell's
Technical Director for the project. Under the contract, a
280-lb thrust rocket motor was made and tested. Peroxide was
chosen as the safest fuel for personnel use as no combustion
took place, just the expulsion of pressurized peroxide gases,
while the operator wore a form-fitting fiberglass corset for
safety. Many tethered flight were conducted, with Moore as the
operator, at the Bell plant at Buffalo. Jetavators, for
controlling the yaw or pitch were also tried. However, Moore
sustained an injury of a fractured knee in one flight and was
never able to experience a free flight in his invention.
It was left to another engineer, Harold Graham, to continue
the test flights and to eventually achieve the first free
flight on April 20, 1961. Graham flew successfully at 7 to
10-mph for 13 seconds over a distance of 112 feet. Other
milestones were soon reached, including a flight over a 30 ft.
hill and a flight over a stream and circular flights over
obstacles like trucks. The first public demonstration was made
by the Army at Fort Eustice, Virginia, on June 8, 1961. The
flight received wide acclaim and an even more spectacular
flight was made before a large crowd, including general
officers, on the Pentagon lawn.
Public flights were made thereafter at fairs and similar
events across the country, including a flight before President
Kennedy at Fort Bragg, N.C.
However, despite the belt's apparent popularity, it turned out
to be a commercial failure, mainly due to its limited use
because of its short duration use. The Army's higher priority
of missile development also contributed toward the loss of
Army interest. The Army, and also Marine Corps which had
considered the belt, did not adopt it and Bell no longer
became sought its further development. In January, 1970, a
license to sell and manufacture the Bell Jet Belt was granted
by Bell Aerospace Textron to Williams International (formerly
Williams Research Corp.) of Walled Lake, Michigan. Williams
went onto to develop an improved, longer-duration jet-powered
version of the belt.
Today, the rocket belt like the original, are occasionally
used for its entertainment and publicity value, at football
half-time shows and in movie stunts. One belt was also flown
at the 1984 Olympic Games.
The rocket belt is not to be confused with the Manned
Maneuvering Unit (MMU) used by astronauts in space which was a
totally different technological development. The other
existing original Bell rocket belt is found at the State
University of New York, Buffalo campus.