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Rocket pack pilot soars sans parachute

Rocket pack technology got a real boost today when daredevil Eric Scott used his to fly 1,500 feet (457 meters) across the 1,053-foot (321-meter) deep Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River, Denver's Rocky Mountain News reports. Scott a former Air Force para-rescuer who flies for Jet Pack International in Denver, made the record-breaking trip in 21 seconds, about nine seconds before his 135-pound rocket pack would have run out of fuel.

As seen in this video clip posted by CBS Interactive, Scott, who says he has made more than 800 rocket-powered flights, took to the air without a parachute. Instead, he relied on his pack's hydrogen peroxide-filled tanks to propel him across the abyss.

Some media (perhaps confused by the name of the company he flies for) erroneously reported that Scott wore a "jet pack." In fact, he uses a rocket pack. As Scientific American.com reported earlier this year, rocket packs consist of two cylinders of liquid hydrogen peroxide and another container of highly pressurized nitrogen gas, which forces the hydrogen peroxide into a gas generator, where it reacts violently with a catalyst made of silver to produce a stream of steam superheated to 1,370 degrees Fahrenheit (743 degrees Celsius). This hot gas vents through two nozzles, one on each side of the pack, providing an upward thrust.

Jet packs, which rely on a mini turbine to keep the pilot aloft, are more the stuff of science fiction, although several companies—including Jet Pack International and Thunderbolt Aerosystems, Inc., in Mountain View, Calif.—are working to commercialize the technology. Thunderbolt in April unveiled plans to develop by mid- 2009 a jet-powered device called THUNDERJET, which the company claims will be able to stay aloft for up to 35 minutes.

Troy Widgery founded Jet Pack International about four years ago with an eye toward building a jet pack that can fly under the power of a single jet-turbine engine and can keep a pilot airborne for up to seven minutes. Remaining work to be done: improving fuel efficiency, getting sufficient  kick out of the pack's turbine to lift both pack and pilot, and developing an engine that responds quickly to the flyer's hand controls, because turbines typically have more of a lag time than rockets. "[The jet pack] will be as fast at top speed and look very similar to [a] rocket pack," Widgery told Scientific American.com in April, adding that he hopes to have a working model by the end of the year.

Image of Eric Scott (seen here in an earlier flight) courtesy of Jet Pack International

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