The world loves Bond but it can be argued that we love his gadgets slightly more. Over the years, movie goers have been thrilled by dozens of impressive gadgets and there are very few of these that are as memorable or as well loved as the Bell-Textron Jet pack.
The Bell-Textron Jet pack – or Bell Rocketbelt as it was officially known – was used during the opening scenes of the movie Thunderball. In the movie, Bond is seen trying to escape from a mansion after following Jacques Boitier there disguised as his widow. 007 uncovers the jetpack which he has hidden on the roof and straps it on. He then uses the gadget to fly over the guard wall before tossing it into the boot of his car and driving off.
The jetpack that appeared on screen was a gadget that really did exist. Proposed in 1959 and developed in the early 1960s, the hydrogen peroxide powered device was capable of transporting the pilot several metres into the air but it was difficult to control. However, its biggest disadvantage was that the flight time was limited to around 20 seconds, during which it could travel a distance of just 120 metres and the army cancelled the project.
The jetpack was flown by Bill Suitor during the movie, but he refused to fly without a helmet due to safety considerations, forcing Terrence Young to re-shoot the scene of Sean Connery putting on the equipment so that he was seen to put on a crash helmet.
When Bond lands he throws the jetpack into the back of his Aston Martin DB5, quipping, “No well dressed man should be without one”. However, repeat viewings of the film show that the car boot doesn’t close properly as the jetpack wasn’t quite small enough to fit in the DB5.
The jetpack alsp appeared at the US premiere of Thunderball on December 21st, 1965. The pilot took off from the top of the Manhattan Paramount Theater in New York, but both he and members of United Artists publicity team were arrested for failing to obtain a licence required for the stunt.
Bill Suitor wrote a book about his experiences developing the jetpack published by Apogee Books Space called “Rocketbelt Pilot’s Manual: A Guide by the Bell Test Pilot“.
You can order “Rocketbelt Pilot’s Manual: A Guide by the Bell Test Pilot” by Bill Suitor by clicking the links below: