Jet-Pack Boats: The Future of Special Operations?

By Dan Parsons
TAMPA, Fla. — Mike Traster is suspended 30 feet above Tampa Bay, borne aloft by a pair of water jets streaming from a jetpack on his back.
Traster, a “master jetpack flight instructor,” has been flying around the bay for two days outside the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. His exploits have gathered crowds of people snapping cell-phone pictures of his antics.
But private security firm owner Tony Sparks has a very specific, practical purpose in mind for this technology, which seems more tailor-made for a James Bond movie than for real-world military operations.
When U.S. special operators need to board a vessel at sea, they must drive a boat alongside and use ladders. The process takes time, is difficult in high seas and leaves troops and their vessel vulnerable to hostile fire.
Sparks’ vision is that an advance team of Navy SEALs could approach a target vessel from thousands of yards, underwater, then spring aboard wearing jet packs. His company, Phantom Services, specializes in recapturing stolen yachts. He has already used the JetLev to recover three private yachts stolen in the Caribbean.
“Boats and helicopters, when you drive them up to a vessel that is being attacked, are noisy and you lose the element of surprise,” Sparks, a former special operations helicopter pilot, tells National Defense. “The enemy also has the height advantage when you approach. Why not send in an advance team, 20 feet under water, to approach unnoticed, jump on board and start shooting?”
The JetLev not only allows an operator to fly, but also to dive. The military version includes oxygen tanks for operators to breathe below the surface of the sea.
When he last recovered a stolen yacht, no fighting was necessary, Sparks says.
“When we showed up and landed on the starboard and port side of the boat, the bad guys just jumped overboard,” he says. “Surprise means a lot. It’s my job to have surprise.”
The JetLev, which runs $68,500 for a civilian version, was originally envisioned as a recreational vehicle, Traster says.
If that sounds prohibitively expensive, a day of flight training is included in the price. Traster says a person unfamiliar with jetpack operation can master the basics in five minutes. Two hours is all it takes to perform some of the more advanced maneuvers demonstrated during the conference.
The jet pack is connected by a 30-foot hose to what is essentially a riderless, seatless Jet Ski. Instead of shooting water out the back for propulsion, the device’s 260-horsepower gasoline engine directs water down from the pack’s dual nozzles at 800 to 1,000 gallons per minute. Were it not tethered to a continuous water source, the device could actually fly, Traster explains. It does not require a surface to generate lift.
The device tops at 30 miles per hour, Traster says. It is also more maneuverable than a personal watercraft or small boat. It can run for three to four hours on a 22-gallon tank of gas.
The whole idea of the JetLev seems a bit fantastical —perhaps comical — until Sparks explains his concept with deadpan sincerity. “This has a Coast Guard application for near-shore search and rescue because it gives you an elevated view,” he says. “It works well for rescuing  distressed vessels in high sea states. With one-handed controls, [an operator] can shoot and fly at the same time.”
“You just drop the pack, it floats away — we have a tracker on it — and go back and pick it up when the fight is over.”
Photo Credit: Scott Rekdal/NDIA

Topics: Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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