Eyes on the skies: Poplar man unveils patent-pending jetpack design
The SkyPak could be used for many applications, from search and rescue to flying a worker up to change light bulbs or perform other maintenance on tall structures.
POPLAR — A local engineer has spent the last two years designing a prototype jetpack.
Strapping his SkyPak V1 to his back on April 8, Daniel Gant stepped out the door of his workshop in the village of Poplar. This was for a photo op, however, not a flight.
The current electric design involves 30 pounds worth of drone batteries to power the 12 blades. They’re loud, a problem that could be reduced by replacing the 20-inch blades with 40-inch ones, Gant said.
The array of batteries provides 112 horsepower, enough to power a small car. In the air, where every ounce matters, that translates into about two minutes of flight time and a maximum pilot weight limit of 100 pounds, he said.
Replacing the current, 55-pound aluminum frame with carbon nanofiber could cut the weight and increase the flight time. Another option is to trade battery power for a lightweight, powerful gas engine and generator to provide more thrust and a longer flight time.
While the current proof-of-concept design utilizes hobby-grade parts, the next step will involve more sophisticated, more expensive pieces as Gant inches closer to manned flight.
The engineer plans to add cowling and guards around the fan blades, GPS and positioning sensors and the ability to fly the aircraft from either the ground or manually. He envisions an ultralight aircraft that flies much like a drone, with a patent-pending design that keeps the blades behind the pilot.
The SkyPak could be used for many applications, from search and rescue to flying a worker up to change light bulbs or perform other maintenance on tall structures. It's years away from that point, he said, but the design works.
An artist’s concept of a backpack flying machine inspired Gant’s quest to create one. The dream began with a doll-sized model to see if the design could work. The Poplar man, 35, said his proudest moment in the process was the first time a small-scale prototype took flight.
“It didn’t fly great. It needed some adjustments, but it flew,” he said.
One of the most difficult moments was when the large-scale prototype flew, carrying a wooden frame and a department store mannequin Gant named Mitchell. The test flight took place in Mission Covenant Church in Poplar.
“It didn’t fly like I thought it would. It seemed to really struggle,” almost fighting itself to fly, Gant said.
Every step forward brings new challenges to think through, a process Gant said he enjoys.
“I’m really an ideas person, maybe more than an engineer,” Gant said. "This kind of ‘I’ve got this idea. I wonder if I can make it work’ attitude has been in my mind, basically, since I graduated. … And yeah, it has been a huge blessing to get to work on a dream, if you will.”
His wife, friends and family members have been extremely supportive, from turning a wrench to shooting a YouTube video on the project. The neighbors have also been very understanding, he said.
Gant’s company, Ascend Dynamics LLC, released a video and information about the SkyPak in early April.
His passion for flight began at age 13 when he started flying model aircraft. Gant earned his pilot’s license in Superior while attending the University of Minnesota Duluth. He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 2012.
Gant spent five years working for Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth before turning his sights on designing a new jetpack. Now, he’s at a crossroads. If funding can be secured, Gant plans to continue his jetpack research and development full time. If not, it may become a part-time job.