What in the world is JetLev? I found out last May. I was aboard a 148-foot yacht in the south of France with the owner who has every toy in the book: Jet Skis, paddle boards, scuba equipment, a Seabob—you name it—but he didn’t have a JetLev, which is the coolest new “new thing.” Being a man who loves to play, he decided to rent one for a couple of hours to test-drive, or rather test-fly, it. Anchored in the waters off of Cannes, we watched him lift into the air, sporting a jetpack reminiscent of the animated 1960s space-age TV show “The Jetsons.” As an instructor helped him aloft, he became a magnetic attraction for other boaters and curious onlookers, who couldn’t resist capturing the flight with their smart phones.
A few months later I saw several people flying along the Intracoastal Waterway during the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. I felt compelled to investigate further and met Ray Li, the JetLev concept’s Chinese Canadian inventor. I was invited to go for a test flight, but it was not without a little trepidation that I agreed. After some cursory research, I discovered that JetLev is short for Jet Levitation and that feasibility studies were ongoing for the last 10 years. The first prototype was tested in 2004 at the Ocean Energy Basin with assistance from the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). Numerous prototypes and hundreds of test flights later, the JetLev is a patented item, produced by JetLev Technologies in South Florida, and is available to consumers. So, I decided to give it a try.
The unit looks like a rather stiff backpack connected via a hose to a tag-along floating capsule. In reality, it is a jetpack that uses water as the jet propulsion and is tethered to a separate vessel that allows for a lower thrust-to-weight ratio. High-flow water, transmitted to the jetpack through a supply hose, generates thrust by nozzle-reaction force. Throttle control determines allocation of thrust between lift and propulsion (forward, neutral or reverse). Shifting your body weight as you would going around a curve on a motorcycle helps you turn. I tried to intuit this, but I also had an instructor giving me commands through a headpiece in my helmet. At first, I must say that I felt like a complete klutz. It is hard to know what to do with your dangling legs, and as soon as you get high off the water, your instinct is to want to get down. After a few tries, you get a bit more secure with the apparatus and the thrill is addicting. Perseverance pays off; one could definitely do a few hours of practice and look like a pro.
In terms of safety, the hose length ensures a low flight ceiling. While the literature says you can hit maximum heights of 33 feet (10 meters), which is pretty darn high once you are aloft, you are more likely to start off four to 10 feet above the water. Depending on pilot weight, a standard JetLev flyer can reach top speeds of 28 miles per hour (47 km/h) and has a cruising duration of four to five hours. Future designs could achieve higher altitudes and top speeds, extended range and even travel both above and below the water’s surface.
JetLev has already had many orders, especially from watersports bases that will use them as rental units. At $99,500 per jetpack, they may not be purchased for every charter yacht, but it will be right up there with submarines on someone’s wish list for the coolest toy. ■
For more information, visit jetlev.com