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The rocketbelt made famous by Thunderball is back in action

25-Sep-2006 • Bond News

Rocketman Eric Scott once launched from atop a 20-story building.

He has flown for kings, presidents and Hollywood stars. Thousands have filled stadiums to watch him fly.

But he was never nervous about any of his 600 or so flights.

Not until Saturday. This time, several of those in the crowd outside the Niagara Aerospace Museum made quite an impression on Scott. He strapped on his jetpack in front of the men who pioneered the rocket belt almost 50 years ago for Bell Aerosystems - reports Buffalo News.

"I was nervous," Scott said after his 26-second flight. "I haven't felt that in a long time. It was almost like I was in front of my instructors."

Harold Graham was among those who watched Scott.

Eric Scott hovers several stories above the ground during a demonstration Saturday at the Rocketbelt Convention at the Niagara Aerospace Museum.

Graham became the first man to fly untethered using a rocket pack. He flew for 13 seconds, covering 112 feet, on April 20, 1961, near the Niagara Falls airport.

William Suitor attended the latest flight, too, as part of the museum's inaugural Rocketbelt Convention.

Suitor flew for Bell's rocket belt flying team from 1964 through 1970. He might be best known for flying for several television and movie roles, including the James Bond thriller "Thunder Ball." And he helped open the 1984 Olympics with a dramatic flight into the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"They are the greats," Scott said. "For me to follow in their footsteps is an honor."

When Graham donned the rocket belt for his first flights as a 27-year-old, he had good reason to be nervous. And it wasn't because of who was watching.

He recalls demonstrating the rocket belt for President Kennedy at Fort Bragg, N.C., flying over a strip of water and landing in front of the president.

"I'm not nervous because he's there," Graham said. "I'm nervous because I'm flying a rocket belt and I just want survive the day."

He did.

"I didn't meet him," he said of Kennedy. "I saluted him from several feet away."

Graham, 72, who grew up in Kenmore and now lives in Tennessee, fondly remembers those heady days as a test pilot.

"You do a flight demo for the president of the United States and it's not a yawn," he said. "That's big stuff. It was exciting. But the other side of the coin is, it's risky stuff. Are we going to be safe?"

Graham is credited with 36 tethered flights, during which he learned to maneuver, and 87 free flights. The highest he flew was 36 feet, and his longest flight lasted shy of 16 seconds. He once covered 330 feet.

He last flew in 1962.

His most serious injury occurred at Cape Canaveral, Fla., where he was demonstrating the rocket belt as a possible escape method for those working in the tower.

"It didn't work out too well," he said.

He fell 22 feet and landed on his head, leaving him unconscious for a half an hour.

The Army lost interest in the rocket belt and cut research funding, deeming it impractical for military use because it could fly only for less than a minute.

Before Saturday, Graham hadn't even witnessed a flight in some 40 years.

"He looks like a rocket belt pilot," Graham said as Scott prepared to take off.

Scott, 43, stands 6 feet tall and weighs 152 pounds. His 800-horsepower rocket belt weighs about as much as he does.

Graham seemed most impressed that Scott didn't need much help putting on the rocket pack.

"I had two people helping me," he recalled.

He wondered the same thing Saturday that he did when he watched or performed all those flights in the 1960s.

"Is the guy going to crash?" he asked, seconds before Scott launched.

Scott didn't. "I'm impressed," Graham said of Scott's performance.

The rocket belt convention resumes today at the Niagara Aerospace Museum, 345 Third St. Scott is scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. George Melrose worked on Bell projects for 40 years, retiring in 1988. He remembers the Bell spirit.

"Bell said we're going to tackle the new frontiers," he said. "It was an exciting, thrilling, challenging and rewarding time to be in the aerospace industry, especially at Bell."

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