‘Rocketman’ brings jet packs to Lake Max

A longtime Lake Maxinkuckee resident is bringing something of a technological magic carpet ride to Culver this weekend.

Ben Smith (the IV, actually -- his grandfather first bought a house on the west shore over 50 years ago) is the owner of Florida-based Rocketman, which facilitates science fiction-worthy rides on a Jetlev jet pack as much as 30 feet above a given body of water. The device was invented by Raymond Lee, who was recently bought out by Echo Unlimited. Smith, who actually works out of Chicago, decided to become an operator and about four months ago, Rocketman was born.
Smith days he's bringing the device to Lake Maxinkuckee to give local residents a chance to try it, a rare opportunity this far north, though he expects the devices to take off and become common fixtures wherever water sports take place.

Smith will host 40 rides through this weekend, every 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. starting Friday, all launching from his house at 1099 West Shore Drive. Those interested will need to book a ride ahead through Rocketman's office at 1-855-206-RMAN. Smith notes rides are $99 each, a significant reduction from the $250 usually charged for a 30-minute ride.

"I'm not really looking to make money off it," he says. "I just want to give people here a chance to try it."

A team from Florida will be setting up for the rides, including a "throttle man," who will speak to riders wirelessly through the Rocketman helmet, and a "wing man," who will ride near the jet pack and insure the rider's safety, though after 700 flights so far, Smith notes there have been no injuries.

That's partly due to the nature of the device, which he says is "basically a jet ski. It sucks water through the bottom of a pod; it shoots through a 30-foot hose and goes through a Y-splitter. The power is the thrust; there's thousands of gallons of water going through the hose."

However, the water jet is safe enough that a person's hands could go under the spray when the machine is operating; it operates at around 70 PSI (Pounds per Square Inch), whereas a common garden hose operates at 40.

The fuel and engine powering the pack floats on the water below. A rider may soar as high as 30 feet, but even in the worst case scenario, will drop 30 feet into water, so "you're not going to hurt yourself."

Initially, Rocketman's team will control riders' thrust remotely, until the rider is accustomed to operating the jet pack.

"If you're in danger, we can lower you down into the water and fix whatever problems occur," Smith adds.

Riders must be 18 years old or more, though otherwise age doesn't matter.

Smith is clearly looking forward to showcasing the device in Culver, a place near and dear to his heart.

"I went through eight years of Culver Summer School," he notes, "and I'm a life-long Culver guy. I usually take off all of July and spend it here, so we're very familiar with Culver and the landscape, and we love it here."

More information is available on Rocketman online at riderocketman.com,