The Bell Rocket Belt was a low-power rocket propulsion device manufactured by Bell Aerosystems that allowed an individual to safely travel or leap over small distances. The equipment first appeared in the 1965 James Bond film, Thunderball. The rocket belt proved popular and made a cameo appearance in 2002's, Die Another Day, and was usable in the 2005 video game, From Russia with Love.
In the early 1960s, Bell Aerosystems built a rocket pack which it called the "Bell Rocket Belt" or "man-rocket" for the US Army, using hydrogen peroxide as fuel. This rocket belt's propulsion works with superheated water vapour. A gas cylinder contains nitrogen gas, and two cylinders containing highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide. The nitrogen presses the hydrogen peroxide onto a catalyst, which decomposes the hydrogen peroxide into a mixture of superheated steam and oxygen with a temperature of about 740 °C. This was led by two insulated curved tubes to two nozzles where it blasted out, supplying the recoil. The pilot can vector the thrust by altering the direction of the nozzles through hand-operated controls. To protect from resulting burns the pilot had to wear insulating clothes.
Despite achieving enormous success demonstrating the rocket pack in action before the public, the US army was disappointed. The maximum duration of flight of the rocket pack was 21 seconds, with a range of only 120 m. An entire command of service personnel needed to accompany the rocket pack. During flight 5 U.S. gallons (19 liters) of hydrogen peroxide was expended. In the opinion of the military, the "Bell Rocket Belt" was more a spectacular toy than an effective means of transport. The army spent $150,000 on the Bell Aerosystems contract. Bell spent an additional $50,000. The army refused any further expenditure on the Small Rocket Lift Device (SRLD) program, and the contract was cancelled.
The rocket could carry a man over 9-meter-high obstacles and reached a speed of 11 to 16 km/h. However, its flying time was limited to 20 seconds. Apart from the extremely limited working time, this rocket belt did not allow for a controlled landing should its drive fail, as it would operate at altitudes far too low for a parachute to function. This represents a substantial safety risk and differentiates the rocket belt from airplanes and helicopters, which can land safely without power by gliding or autorotation.
The pack's pilot wears shielding overalls made of thermal resistant material, since the exhaust jet and the engine's pipes are very hot. The crash helmet (which has inside it the signal buzzer) is put on. The rocket thrust-chamber's supersonic exhaust jet makes a deafeningly loud sound (by force to 130 decibels), more like a shrill screech than the roar of an aeroplane's jet engine.
The pack has two levers, rigidly connected to the engine installation. Pressing on these levers, the pilot deflects the nozzles back, and the pack flies forward. Accordingly, raising this lever makes the pack move back. It is possible to lean the engine installation to the sides (because of the ball and socket joint) to fly sideways.
Control with the aid of the lever is somewhat rough; for finer control the pilot uses a handle on the left lever. This handle governs the tips of the jet nozzles. The tips (jetavators) are spring-opposed and can with the aid of the flexible thrusts be slanted forward or back. The pilot inclines the handle forward or back and slants both nozzle tips at the same time to fly straight. If pilot must turn, he turns handle, to slant the nozzles in opposite directions, one forward, another back, turning the pilot and the pack around its axis. By the combination of different motions of lever handles the pilot can fly any way, even sideways, to turn, rotate on the spot, etc.
The pilot can control his rocket pack's flight differently, by changing the center of gravity of his body. For example, if we bend the legs and raise them to the stomach, the center of gravity will move forwards, and pack will be inclined and it will also fly forward. Such a control of pack, with the aid of the body, is considered incorrect and is characteristic of novices. Most experienced pilot Bill Suitor asserts that during the flight it is necessary to hold legs together and straight, and to control flight by the pack's levers and handles. This is the only way to learn to competently pilot the pack and to confidently carry out complex aerial maneuvers.
On the right lever it is the "gas handle". In the fixed state it completely shuts the fuel regulator into the engine. Turning the handle counterclockwise, the pilot increases the engine thrust. During servicing of the pack with compressed nitrogen the handle is fixed in the closed position with a shear pin. The timer is on the same handle. Since the pack has fuel for only for 21 seconds of flight, it is necessary to know when the pack will run out of fuel, so that the pilot is not 10 meters above the ground when his tanks are empty.
Before the flight the timer is set for 21 second. When pilot turns the handle for the takeoff, the timer begins counting and will give second-by-second signals to a buzzer in the pilot's helmet. In 15 seconds the signal becomes continuous, telling the pilot that it is time to land.
James Bond's Rocket Belt
A Bell Rocket Belt is used in the pre-title sequence of the 1965 James Bond film, Thunderball. After Bond assassinates SPECTRE operative, Jacques Bouvar, he uses a rocket belt to escape from the colonel's security men by making a short flight from the roof of the château to his Aston Martin DB5 parked nearby. Presumably this is the same method he used to gain access to the château just prior to Bouvar's arrival.
The flight sequence makes use of a combination of rear projection effects featuring actor Sean Connery and an actual 20 second flight by pilot Bill Suitor. Initially, to appear more debonair, 007 was to fly the jet pack without a helmet. Indeed, some publicity photos and promotional material of Connery with the jet pack lacked a helmet. However, it was later decided that he should wear a helmet after the pilot refused to make the flight without one for safety reasons.
- Aside from the 1965 James Bond, Thunderball, the rocket pack has been used in presentations at Disneyland and at the 1984 Summer Olympics and 1996 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies. It also made an appearance in the Lost in Space television series as well as the 1976 CBS Saturday morning children's live action TV show "Ark II".
- In their description of the equipment, the 007 Spy Files additionally included four miniature aerial mines and a smoke-screen generator.
- Die Another Day
- From Russia with Love (The Video Game)
- List of James Bond vehicles
- List of James Bond gadgets
- (2002) 007 Spy Files #6 (Magazine), 007 Spy Files (in En-UK), London: GE Fabbri Ltd., pp.08-09.