US military eyeing NZ made Jetpack

By Christopher Adams

The Martin Jetpack's creator says he would be angry if his invention were used to carry weapons. Photo / Supplied
The Martin Jetpack's creator says he would be angry if his invention were used to carry weapons. Photo / Supplied

Two years after unveiling the Jetpack at the Oshkosh Airshow in the United States, Christchurch's Martin Aircraft Company is discussing possible military uses for its flying machine with the US Department of Defence.

The firm's chief executive says possible applications include a remote-controlled, unmanned version of the propeller-powered aircraft - which has the potential to fly at heights of up to 10,000 feet (3048m) - being used as an "airborne missile platform".

Speaking to the Weekend Herald, company founder Glenn Martin said major US aerospace companies Boeing, Raytheon and Rockwell Collins were also interested in the Kiwi firm's technology.

Joint ventures were a possibility, he said.

"We're already dealing with Rockwell Collins. We've got conversations going with those companies and more, in particular those conversations are being led by the US Department of Defence."

Controversy erupted in 2006 when it was suggested products made by Auckland high-tech crystal manufacturer Rakon were finding their way into smart bomb technology made by Rockwell Collins.

Rakon's Mt Wellington head office was targeted by peace protesters when Israel - a large-scale user of smart bomb technology - launched offensives against Lebanon and Gaza.

Mr Martin said the military applications being considered for the Jetpack would not primarily involve weapons.

The military could instead use an unmanned machine to deliver supplies - such as medicine and food - to troops in the field, he said.

But Martin Aircraft Company chief executive Richard Lauder appeared to have a different view from the company's founder, saying the Jetpack's ability to carry weapons was one of the applications under consideration.

"[It would be] something they [the military] can put up at about 500 to 1000 metres to look around and see if there's any bad guys."

Mr Lauder said Martin Aircraft did not "have any bias" against its products being used for combat military applications.

Mr Martin, contrary to his chief executive's claims, said he would"be pretty pissed off" if the Jetpack technology he began work on inhis garage in 1981 ended upbeing used to carry weapons.

"But unless you never sell a product, how can you stop it?"

The NZ Government - through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) - has provided around $1 million in funding to the Jetpack project.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said it was unaware of Martin Aircraft Company's talks with the US Department of Defence.

The foundation provided funding for specific projects, she said, and the funding received by Martin Aircraft had been for the development of the Jetpack only.

Research, Science and Technology Minister Wayne Mapp said there were no restrictions on New Zealand firms bidding for defence contracts as long as there was no breach of rules on nuclear applications, mines or cluster munitions.

Mr Martin said civilian applications for the unmanned Jetpack, such as search and rescue and disaster relief, were also a possibility. One machine could carry up to 100kg of food and clean water to disaster victims.

He said he had not lost his initial vision for his creation to be used as a recreational vehicle.

About 1600 people had expressed interest in spending $140,000 on a jet pack for personal use, he said.

The company was also considering a public listing on the NZX within the next 18 months.

- NZ Herald

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