The Super Bowl's Love Affair with Jetpacks
Sports writer Michael MacCambridge wrote, “The Super Bowl contains multitudes; it has always exemplified America at its best, America at its worst, and more than anything else, America at its most.”
So it’s no surprise that the largest televised spectacle in the world has a history of using jetpacks. It doesn’t get much more spectacular than strapping a rocket to your back and taking flight in a sports stadium holding 60,000 people.
In 1967 the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs faced off in the very first Super Bowl. A crowd of over 60,000 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — and 50 million watching at home — marveled at the sight of two men from Bell Aerosystems flying like Space Age supermen with their rocket belts (the more appropriate term for the technology, though I prefer “jetpack”). Those two men were more than likely a young William P. Suitor (who would go on to be featured in everything from James Bond movies to TV beer ads) and Peter Kedzierski (who acquired the nickname “Bird Man” at the 1963 Paris Air Show).
I emailed Mac Montandon, the author of Jetpack Dreams and an editor at FastCompany.com, and asked his take on the use of jetpacks at the first Super Bowl:
“Super Bowl I was an historic and memorable event for many reasons, not the least of which being that this was the first Super Bowl, as you may have gathered from that Roman numeral. Also Bart Starr quarterbacked the Packers and was named the game’s MVP. But the thing that most people remember about the first Super Bowl was that a jetpack flew during the halftime show–and there’s nothing quite as spectacular as a live jetpack demo. Okay, that’s not really what most people remember. But I think it should be. The Super Bowl, after all, happens every year. How many times have you seen a jetpack fly?”
The Super Bowl XIX pregame show on January 20, 1985 also featured a jetpack pilot. Fresh from his flight at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Bill Suitor’s rocketbelt still had the “USA” emblazoned across the back. Suitor (the the most famous of the Bell Aerosystems test pilots) salutes the crowd and gives a thumbs up before blasting off for a short trip around the field. Frankly, it feels less spectacular to watch Suitor in 1985 than it does to see the footage from 1967. Maybe it’s because there was sadly no real technological progress made on the jetpack in those 20 years.
For the hardcore jetpack enthusiast, Bill Suitor wrote a book in 2009 titled, The Rocketbelt Pilot’s Manual.
Who knows when we’ll next see a jetpack at the Super Bowl. With any luck, Madonna will strap one on for her halftime show on Sunday. But I’m not holding my breath.
This article originally appeared at Smithsonian magazine.