Photos of Fred jet packing up and down and all around ~ courtesy of Candace Webb

By Fred Garth

When I was a kid, oh so long ago, we were told we’d all be zipping around on jet packs when we grew up. It was a tantalizing image…flying like birds, defying the laws of gravity and traveling with the freedom and speed of an escaped convict. Plus, it was a hellava of a lot more appealing than the backseat of a Buick with my five brothers. I can guarantee you that.

I could handle being an adult if I was a rocket man. In fact, wrinkles and and arthritis didn’t sound so bad when the prospect of cavorting with eagles was on the horizon. Then, like so many promises that didn’t come true (my parents never did get me that trampoline), the closest we ever came to personal jet packs was James Bond films and NASA documentaries.

Until now.

Last October I was stumbling around the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show when I spotted a company selling jet packs. There was a video and everything. I was about to swipe some plastic money when I encountered one minor problem – the $90,000 price tag. If it wasn’t for the mortgage, college tuition, three cell phone bills, the power bill, two car payments and a few other items such as groceries and a weekly pair of new shoes for my wife, I would have definitely bought the gizmo. Instead I hung my head and rambled into the maze of booths that were hawking everything from high-tech radar domes and eco-friendly bottom paints. But the image of that jet pack stayed with me for months.

Fast forward to last week. I was in St. Pete Beach, Florida at the Tradewinds Island Resort for the Gulf Fishery Symposium with Guy Harvey and a hotel full of scientists. As I gazed out of the window of my sixth floor suite I saw it. Some dude was buzzing around in my coveted jet pack!

Fred Garth Jet Packing 1At this stage in my story I have add a disclaimer, per my attorney’s sound legal advice. The jet pack in question is not exactly like the James Bond version. It does strap on your back and it will shoot you into the air but it’s powered by water rather than jet fuel.

It works like this: the jet pack has 40-foot-long umbilical cord that is attached a little craft that looks almost exactly like a jet ski. The tiny boat has some kind of powerful pump in it that sucks water from the sea and shoots it through the long tube then out of two jets mounted on the backpack. It’s very ingenious.

So, as I’m watching this guy zoom up and down the coastline with this little plastic boat dragging behind him, I picked up the phone and called the front desk. They directed me to the Adventure Center where I was told I could rent the jet pack for $300/hour which included professional instruction, some action photos, and a banana or apple, my choice. I was hesitant at first but the fruit offer cinched the deal.

Then the Adventure Center woman asked, “Can you be ready in an hour? We have an open slot.”

My heart raced. I was ready to finally fulfill a broken promise that had been made to a generation of baby boomers.

The preflight briefing was about 15 minutes of an instructor repeatedly telling me not to push the jet handles too high unless I was into backward barrel rolls and crashing into the water. He kept telling me to relax as they strapped me into a life jacket, put a helmet on me, hooked me into the jet pack and asked several times if I had signed the disclaimer. My heart began to race and I asked my first of many stupid questions. “Does this thing float?” They laughed and said, “Of course, you idiot.” Except they left out the “you idiot” part. But I could tell that’s what they were thinking.Fred Garth Jet Packing 2

Before I knew it I was soaring like an eagle attached to a long rope.

To get the most speed, I skidded horizontally along the surface of the water.

To hover like a helicopter I lifted the handles and shot up into the air. I turned left. I rotated right. I even cruised underwater – on purpose. The entire deal was incredible even though I was tethered to the pump boat.

After about 30 minutes of flying, I settled back down into the water and became a normal gravity bound human again. Maybe I wasn’t James Bond and maybe I didn’t fly into the clouds. But I flew, I didn’t crash and I fulfilled a lifelong dream. Now, if I just had an extra $90K…

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