Update: While I was sleeping, Popular Mechanics did a nice interview with Hartman back on March 17th.
About a month ago, I spotted a video of a guy named Troy Hartman going almost 50 miles an hour using a jet pack on skis. I thought it was awesome then, and tracked Hartman down and talked to him a little about it. Unfortunately, I had just read a couple of books about nuclear reactors, and when one started getting uppity over on the East Side, I got sidetracked into writing about that for a while. Mea culpa.
But no amount of “zenon gas” crossing the Pacific could distract me indefinitely from the world of jet packs, and to jet packs I return.
Anyway, the rig Hartman wears in the above video was built by him from the jet engine of a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which he adapted to use in a backpack configuration. Hartman says the jet exhaust blasts out behind him at about 1,500 Fahrenheit, and he had to wear protective gear on his ass, basically, to keep from becoming a rump roast. At one point he’s going about 47 miles an hour, which is far from the fastest downhill skiing possible, but is still pretty fast (especially for fairly level ground). The jet pack is controlled (visibly, in this footage) by a device Hartman holds in his right hand.
As someone who knows very little about aviation physics but completely loves jet packs, I was immediately fascinated by the invention itself and how exactly it all worked. The information on that count was sketchy, because Hartman plans to sell this thing as a commercial product if he can — it’s a pretty ingenious invention, and calls to mind at least one apocryphal Darwin Award.
The footage was posted in many different venues, usually without too many details and few comments other than “LOL KEWL!!!” But some commenters questioned whether the footage was a hoax, for various reasons — and just because if you look at cool videos people post, everything seems like a hoax except Roomba Cat Slapping a Pit Bull.
Since about the only thing I love more than jet packs is debunking crap, I was intrigued.
The suspicion of commenters on Hartman’s video centered on a few tricks of the light and some of the details — including the fact that at one point, when Hartman is holding out a stabilized camera to get a good shot of himself, he’s so steady that it looks a bit like he’s holding on to a snowmobile.
Personally, I never questioned the footage too much because it’s not crazy-spectacular. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty effin’ spectacular. But at no point does Hartman appear to defy the laws of physics, so that said to me that the video was likely completely real.
You see, this was my thinking: Some guy who wanted to display his masculine potency by faking videos would probably show himself doing something way wackier than riding a jet pack on skiis — like any of the crap Hartman does over at his site TroyHartman.com. Maybe falling out of a plane with his parachute on fire, or doing a plane-to-plane skydive transfer, or base jumping through a 37th-floor window, or maybe skydiving from an exploding aircraft. Or possibly fandango-ing midair with a goose, as Hartman did for a Pepsi commercial. The point is, Hartman is a stuntman, so he does all sorts of wacky stuff.
The jetpack-on-skis video seemed like a presentation that thrived on the invention, not the crazy-nuttiness of the act itself. Besides, I think we all know that some seriously crazy-looking video footage is totally accurate.
The only things I found myself suspicious about in Hartman’s video were that he didn’t disclose the model of UAV from which he scavenged the jet engine for his jetpack and that I couldn’t see the effects of the jet exhaust. While UAVs have been flooding the market lately for civilian application, the industry is moving toward turboprops rather than jets, because jets are freakin’ expensive to buy and even more expensive to operate. I also didn’t see the light-warping effect I’d expect with a very hot exhaust.
Then I noticed Hartman was very interactive with commenters on his YouTube channel, where he was admirably polite to people who accused him of being a fraud, and laudably kind and gracious to people who told him he’s bad-ass. So I dropped him a line and got an immediate and very kind response, in which Hartman was totally forthcoming about everything except the model of jet engine he used — reasonably so, since the thing hasn’t been patented yet.
Here’s what Troy Hartman said about the questions around his video and his jet-pack invention, and the accusations that it’s somehow faked. Ultimately, it’s pretty obvious to me that this is a real invention and Hartman is completely credible.
On why the jet exhaust isn’t visible:
There is an area of that “light warping” effect that you mention, but it only extends about 3 feet behind the exhaust, with a diameter of probably only 1 foot. With such high exhaust velocities it is a very narrow cone. It isn’t as distinguishable (not sure why) as what you see behind a jet, so it needs to be viewed against a fairly high contrast background, like asphalt.
On why a path of melted snow isn’t visible behind him:
The snow is definitely melting, but I am never in one spot long enough to see it. When testing the pack on a vertical stand, the snow melts so rapidly that I can only run it for about 30 seconds, and have to constantly move the test stand forward. I should have grabbed a photo of it, but in the area I was running tests, there were cavities in the snow running as much as 3 feet deep. Again, these were about a foot in diameter to match the exhaust cone. Here’s a picture of my jacket when I was done with the tests — definitely a design flaw that needs to be worked out.
At one point, Hartman looks like he’s holding on to something — in fact, he’s holding on to a camera with image-stabilization, but several commenters felt it looked like he was holding on to a snowmobile or a tow line — which meant, to those commenters, the video was fake, though I was far less convinced. Here’s Hartman’s response to that accusation:
I just went to that spot in the video you are talking about. I wonder if people think it looks like I am holding on to something because it is so far off to the side. The reason I held the camera there was because I saw my shadow and thought it would make for a cool shot, so I moved the camera back to capture it. Speaking of the shadow, obviously if there were a snowmobile it would be in the same shadow. Of course I realize something like that can be removed with editing software (not sure how hard that would be). The other thing to take note of is that in the same continuous shot, I then move the camera forward for another angle, and if I were holding on to a snowmobile that would put it on my skis. Not sure what else to point out, but I am willing to keep answering questions to prove it’s real, because it most certainly is. Other things I have pointed out elsewhere is the jet blast in the background and the reflection of the goggles. Of course all of this stuff can be manipulated, but just seems like it would be pretty tricky. I am an amateur editor, as can be confirmed by the fact that the video is in WMV format since I used free Windows Movie Maker. I think somebody with the ability to do some major editing magic would probably output it in a different format.
For what it’s worth, my Bullshit Detector goes off pretty easily, and once I got in touch with Hartman it didn’t ding once. The guy seems utterly trustworthy, and he seems to go well above and beyond the call of duty in making himself available both to detractors and people wanting details on his invention and what it was like to ski with it.
I’m always a little paranoid. Years spent reading books by “investigators” who chase down really questionable alien-abduction information and find it Utterly Totally Credible!! has left me reluctant to believe a damn thing anybody ever says.
Similarly, I’ve experienced a lot of freakouts from hysterical unemployed wannabe college professors jumping up and down screaming that Wikipedia Isn’t Accurate!!! in the service of telling me that they Know Everything. These “skeptics” seem to think that everyone is lying all the time (except, of course, for them). They indulge in cherry-picking of internet bullshit to prove that everyone but them is full of beans. Spend much time around haters and you’ll understand just how thoroughly unable most people — even educated people — are to separate Obvious Crap from May Be Crap from Possibly Not Crap from Probably Not Crap from Seriously, This Isn’t Crap.
Well, Seriously, This Isn’t Crap. Troy Hartman, movie stuntman, really built a jet pack on skis. It’s pretty bad-ass if you ask me. Find out more about it or chat with him over at TroyHartman.com.
Incidentally, in my other favorite recent case of jet-powered humans, over on my post about rocket boots, a commenter pointed out the air intakes on Finnish wingsuiter Visa Parviainen’s footgear — indicating that my claim that he’s using jet boots, not rocket boots. In fact, they’re jets (for the uninitiated, jets have air intakes to provide oxygen for combustion; rockets carry their own oxidizer). My bad: jet boots. Jets.
Meanwhile, here’s one more pic of smilin’ Troy Hartman, the jet-powered guy on skis: