You could be forgiven for thinking that two Aussie blokes in a Western Sydney field don't really care about how safe a water jetpack is, just how high and fast it goes, right? Wrong. Situated in the most unassuming of places are Australia's foremost experts on water jetpacks, and they're flying around the clock to keep the world safe. As you'll see in this test drive video, I came out in one piece. Mostly.
Just like Tony Stark works in his garage perfecting the Iron Man suit, Greg Weige and his team fly around a lake in Penrith to test and improve upon water jetpack safety routines. Of course, you can also pay to take a ride yourself in Sydney or on the Gold Coast. More info at jetpackadventures.com.au
This week, thanks to AHM Insurance, Gizmodo Australia is travelling around the country to find the best adventure rides invented and influenced by Aussies. From jetpacks to electric off-road bikes: we've got it all.
What is a water jetpack, you ask? It's like a big plastic backpack that flies. It comes complete with a giant hose coming out of the bottom that sucks up water from a lake, dam or the ocean and feeds it into two downward facing jets that propel you up to 10 metres into the air. The jets are mounted to hand controls that require just the slightest movement to have you turning and burning around a lake.
There are a few different types of water jetpack: the one used by Greg and his team out at Jetpack Adventures in Penrith, and the Flyboard used internationally where the propulsion board is strapped to the wearers feet leaving the arms free.
The JetLev backpack-style water jetpack is way more fun, plus, Jetpack Adventures scored the first one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It was purchased from a Dubai company that had a water jetpack team which later folded.
As a result, it was Greg's job to work on safety measures for everyone else using these jetpacks in Australia and around the world as Jetpack Adventures grew and expanded.
The tech Greg deals with isn't to be mucked about: it pumps through 4000 litres of water a minute, and can empty a household pool in as little as 10 minutes. While you're in the air, you're wearing a petrol-powered, 250 horsepower motor on your back encased in carbon fibre as you're strapped in by a five-point safety harness. It's a serious piece of gear, and if you don't respect it, it makes you pay for it as we quickly learned when we went to the Penrith International Regatta Centre to see the fruits of Greg's labour.
Thanks to training from Greg and Brad, most pilots can fly within 10 minutes these days and are perfectly safe while doing it. There's a start-stop safety lanyard similar to that on a jetski or a treadmill, and the safety harness even has its own emergency eject pulley which immediately disengages the five-point safety harness when you yank it, dropping you out of the jetpack and safely into the water.
Greg has also worked on new recovery techniques for the jetpack, including having it powered by a jetski that follows the pilot so that height and speed can be regulated. Greg also teaches pilots exactly how to recover from a crash before they fly, because landing in the water with a jetpack on your back isn't the best way to go if you don't know how to recover.
All these learnings are documented, video taped and sent up to the other Jetpack Adventure outlets in Queensland and even to other companies around the world to keep people safe as they use water jetpacks.
Greg sits around with his colleagues and dreams up ways people might get hurt on jetpacks, and then it's his job to go out and see what it's like to do said stupid thing. That way, he can work out all of the things that go into making a bad decision on a water jetpack and keep people safe when they do them.
Despite his expertise, I was still nervous as I was being strapped into the $70,000 piece of flying equipment.
In order to stay in when you fly, you sit on what looks like a bike seat and get strapped into your harness, before wading out into the water with all your training and firing up the engines.
Taking off is the hardest part, because you're immediately being propelled forward as well as upwards, which means the urge to panic and nose-dive the jetpack into the water is overwhelming. Plus, your radio-enabled helmet might be covering your eyes (as it was mine) as the jetpack kicked into life and pushed on your back.
30 of the most frightful seconds of your life later and you think you've got it: you're well on your way to the height of a three-storey building, and you're moving the control arms mere inches to whip yourself around this incredible lake. Your hands shake as you remove some of the pressure, and you start to get bold enough to raise your hands in the air to whoop and cheer that you have defied gravity with the aid of technology. It's the most exhilarating thing you can do in water.
Greg watches on carefully to make sure you stay safe while doing it, and to be honest, I wouldn't want any other cowboy taking care of me.