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September 23, 2006

Falls flight of fancy

NIAGARA FALLS — TAKING FLIGHT: Pilot will demonstrate rocketbelt again today.



The crowd outside the Niagara Aerospace Museum on Wendel Way hushed and a rocket erupted as pilot Eric Scott gave a thumbs up Saturday and defied gravity.

Wearing black and red and a rocket strapped to his back, the 43-year-old Denver resident propelled himself about 40 feet above the pavement as dozens of spectators watched.

Technology first developed 49 years ago at Bell Aerosystems in Niagara Falls returned to the Cataract City this weekend for a convention of more than one hundred rocketbelt pilots, writers and engineers.

The pinnacle of the convention was a 30-second demonstration of the rocketbelt — a hydrogen peroxide rocket that straps onto a person’s back and propels him into the air. Scott will demonstrate the rocket again today at 3:30 p.m.

“It was totally amazing,” said 11-year-old Youngstown resident Stevie Fleck after watching Scott fly about the distance of a football field across Wendel Way.

Among the spectators was rocketbelt pioneer William Suitor, a Youngstown resident who began testing the rocket packs for Bell in 1964 when he was 19. The company, a division of Bell Aerospace Corp., had a contract with the U.S. Army to develop the technology for soldiers.

“It was never meant for showbiz or anything else that it finally became,” Suitor said.

The rocketbelt was later featured in James Bond film Thunderball.

When the Army decided against pursuing the rocketbelts, Suitor went on to a career demonstrating the rocket packs to thousands of people across the world. He took off in Paris, Disneyland and at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Suitor believes the technology, first invented by Bell engineer Wendell Moore, still has potential. Suitor and others would like to see the individual crafts developed with small jet engines that would have more power than peroxide rockets.

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