When it comes to James Bond gadgets, it’s hard to beat the jet pack.
While playing the British super spy in the 1965 hit “Thunderball,” Sean Connery dons a rocket-powered backpack and flies away from a pair of gun-toting bad guys.
Lee H. Person Jr. of York County didn’t fancy martinis. Nor did he hop around the globe wearing tuxedos and chasing villains bent on world destruction.
But Person liked to hang out in airplane hangars, where the scent of jet fuel and hot rubber hung in the air. He also loved to fly; the faster the plane the better.
Person thought he hit the jackpot after landing a job as a research pilot at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton in the 1960s. It was a cool gig that included testing the Lunar Excursion Module — the spacecraft that would take Neil Armstrong and other astronauts to the moon.
But one of his most unique assignments came when he was asked to travel to western New York to fly Bell Aircraft Corp.’s jet pack. A few years ago, he showed me a video of the test.
A much younger Person donned the pack, officially called the Bell Rocket Belt, and lifted off. The pack’s propellants lifted him vertical. Yet unlike Bond, who landed safely next to a pretty lady in a sports car, Person hit the ground. Hard.
He ended up in a hospital and the jet pack never became the hot commodity that people in the 1960s thought it would.
Person continued work at Langley for decades — he is now retired — and won the praise of his colleagues. It is for those reasons and more that he, along with fellow Langley alum Kenneth “Dick” R. Yenni, were inducted in the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame in November.
The pair was inducted along with Kenneth R. Scott, former executive director at Norfolk International Airport.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun