Boeing is behind a $2.76 million race to build a ''safe and easy-to-use'' personal flying device.

The two-year contest managed by GoFly will award the prize to designers, engineers, inventors and builders to build a safe, ultra-compact, quiet, urban-compatible, personal flying machine capable of carrying a person 32km without refuelling or recharging with vertical, or near-vertical take-off and landing capability.

Existing makers of machines, such as Martin Jetpack, will be eligible to enter but must meet strict technical specifications, a spokeswoman said.

GoFly will provide teams with access to experienced mentors and masters in design, engineering, finance, law, and marketing, but the ultimate design and functionality of the device will be up to the imagination of the competitors.

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The prize launched at the AeroTech Congress & Exhibition in Fort Worth in Texas early today.

Gwen Lighter, chief executive of the GoFly Prize, said it was aimed at pushing people to new heights.

"There is perhaps no dream more universal than the dream of human flight. GoFly is going to make that dream a reality. Today we look to the sky and say 'look at that plane fly,' but two years from now we'll look up and say 'look at that person fly.'"

Competition prizes will be awarded in three phases: Phase I will include 10 prizes of US$20,000 (NZ$27,600) awarded based on written technical specifications; Phase II will include four US$50,000 prizes awarded to teams with the best prototypes and revised Phase I materials; and Phase III will unveil the grand prize winner, awarded at the final fly-off in the northern autumn of 2019.

The final fly-off will be judged by a team of experts from Boeing and other leading organisations.

Teams will have the opportunity to compete for additional prizes during the final fly-off, including one US$100,000 prize awarded for disruptive advancement of the state-of-the-art aviation technology, one US$250,000 prize for the quietest compliant entry, and one US$250,000 prize for the smallest compliant entry.

The grand prize winner will be awarded US$1m for the best overall fly-off score, calculated by measuring speed, noise, and size.

The first registration deadline for teams participating in Phase I is April 4 next year, 2018 and more information is at www.goflyprize.com.