For fans of science fiction, growing up during the Great Depression of the 1930s was a fertile time of wonder and futuristic dreaming. For young readers of the famous Buck Rogers pulp-fiction serials and comic strips, the future was full of all kinds of cool transportation gizmos - from ultra-fast stratospheric airships to self-propelled rocket belts for personal use. These wild, sci-fi ideas made such an impression on one young fan, named Wendell Moore, that it inspired him to pursue an engineering career in the aerospace industry.
Moore worked for the Bell Aircraft Company of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and was involved with the development of Bell's famous post-World War II experimental rocketplanes-the X-1 and X-1a. The Bell rocketplanes were pioneering aircraft and they looked more like something out of a Buck Rogers comic strip than something the aviation industry of the late 1940s could have fabricated.
Ironically, U.S. Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, who broke the "sound barrier" in a Bell X-1 rocket plane in 1947, became most famous during the 1980s when writer Tom Wolf penned his award-winning book, "The Right Stuff".
Years after Yeager's achievement, the U.S. Army expressed interest in moving soldiers quickly on the battlefield. That's when Wendell Moore stepped up to see if he could help; he fell back on a childhood dream - flying through the air in a Buck Rogers' rocket belt. Moore's creation of the rocket belt became better known as the jet belt.
This daring flying device and its variants are pop cultural icons. The jet belt has made appearances in everything from the Super Bowl and "Lost in Space" to a James Bond movie and a Canadian Club whisky advertising campaign.
Moore's original jet belt concept began its gestation during the late 1950s complete with a small rocket engine and fire extinguisher-sized tanks of nitrogen and hydrogen-peroxide propellants. The fuel tanks, combustion chamber, jet (rocket) nozzles, and hand controls were all incorporated into a neat package that could be worn on the back of its human pilot, like a knapsack. The pilot, wearing a nifty crash helmet and fire-retardant jumpsuit, secured the heavy pack on his back using waist and leg belts.