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Martin Jetpack: First response game changer?

NZ Security, December 2016 / January 2017

NZ Security caught up with Michael Read, Martin Aircraft Company’s VP Sales & Customer Delivery, as he boarded a flight to the US to spread the Martin Jetpack word. We asked him about the jetpack’s potential for security industry applications.

 

Mention ‘jetpack’ and it immediately conjures images of the liquid-fuelled rocket packs that emerged out of the pages of science fiction and into mainly US prototype programs in the 1960s. Despite its name, the Martin Jetpack shares little in common with these except for its potential to totally revolutionise aviation.

The jetpack is, more accurately, a OPHAV, or Optionally Piloted Hovering Air Vehicle. It can be flown manned, unmanned or networked and tethered as a mule. “Mule allows people to fly manned but then also bring along equipment or an unmanned aircraft that you can put someone in,” Read explained. “That ability to force multiply is the game changer.”

Established originally as a research and development company, the Christchurch-based Martin Aircraft Company has evolved to become a world leader in Jetpack development and commercialisation. The company is publically listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and is currently setting up distributorship agreements and alliance partnerships in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the US.

Initially conceived to bring the fantasy of personal aerial transportation to reality, the Martin Jetpack concept has evolved to one focused on the real word mission of saving lives. Indeed, with potential applications such as providing high-rise ‘lifeboats’ for hotels, the invention turns science fiction imagination into live saving reality.

The aircraft was named as one of Time Magazine’s Top 50 inventions for 2010, and this triggered a number of queries from the First Responder community who were interested in using jetpacks as a rapid response vehicle.

“We’ve got the statement ‘saving lives’, and that is the ‘why’ about what we’re doing,” said Read. “We are approaching specialist organisations that are involved in saving lives, from counter terrorism to special response police units, special response fire, and certain military organisations, all of which have the goal of saving lives.”

 

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In mid-November, Read was in Auckland to exhibit the Jetpack at the New Zealand Defence Industry Association Annual Forum, and there was no shortage of interest. “Just like the helicopter, we can’t just go straight into the commercial space,” he explained, “we have to go via organisations that know what they’re doing… that’s just part of introducing a new type of aircraft.”

These specialist organisations have the ability to gain approval from the regulator in the public or national interest to experimentally fly the aircraft in its intended roles prior to permission being granted via a type certificate, which, Read explains, “is kind of like the rubber stamp that you need to go and access the commercial markets.”

As for the potential for the Jetpack to take on commercial security applications, he says this is something they will look at once they get their type certificate, which is a couple of years away yet.

Once units start coming off the production line early in 2017, they will be available for purchase to eligible organisations as a package of capability. “As part of the package we’ll offer training, through life support, after sales support, documentation and – most importantly – involvement of the customers in what they want to see in the next iteration of the aircraft,” Read said.

But they’re not just selling to anybody. “We’re being very strict about the type of customers we work with,” explained Read. Currently limited to specialist organisations, Martin’s client list will also be limited to those who constitute a neat strategic fit.

By the time the Jetpack makes its commercial application debut you can expect it to have further benefitted from a couple of years’ additional fine tuning. The just-released Series 1 is an impressive looking model, even more so than its predecessor. Its beautiful lines and eloquent engineering belying its high-powered performance and robust aeronautics.

For those few who have had the pleasure of piloting the Jetpack, it is apparently one of the easiest aircraft to fly either manned or remotely, with a fly-by-wire system that allows hands-free hover and position hold. Its advanced safety features include a ballistic parachute that can open as low as six metres above the ground.

Mechanisation in the security industry is nothing new, but it has made very limited inroads. Security robots, such as the Secom Robot X, Knightscope K5 and the Chinese AnBot, have presented fascinating possibilities, but their application scope remains desperately limited. Drones, or UAVs, have also caught our imagination, but their payload is limited by size and regulation. Moreover, their use by malevolent actors, such as burglars and intruders, has made them as much a threat to security as an enabler.

The Jetpack OPHAV presents entirely new possibilities for the industry that push way beyond the terrain limitations of robots and the payload restrictions of UAVs. As full commercialisation of the aircraft draws nearer, security solutions providers would do well to consider the potential applications of this impressive feat of New Zealand ingenuity.

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