Jet-pack daredevil races car
IT'S a bird, it's a plane, it's a man with a rocket on his back.
Jet-powered action took to the skies over Australian Formula One Grand Prix a little early this year.
On a prayer and with no wings, 23-year-old San Diego thrill-seeker Nick Macomber raced against a car along a section of Lakeside Drive on the Albert Park circuit - by flying above it.
"This is all risk," said the former BMX rider, Moto-X racer, sky-diver, pilot and, now, jet-pack man.
"But it kind of combines all of my hobbies and blows them all away.
"I hope I'll never crash but something could always go wrong and I have to deal with that.
"I've just got to hope I land feet first every time."
Macomber is one of a handful of people in the world who can operate the jet-pack inspired by the one developed by NASA in the 1960s but which uses different technology.
Today's short, 400-metre flight - reaching a top speed of about 100km/h while travelling about 50 metres off the ground - was Macomber's first mission in the southern hemisphere, but he's done "hundreds" of jet-pack flights before.
The short hop took just 16 seconds - the fuel runs out in 30 seconds.
"I've literally lost count of the times I've done this, but I still get nervous every time," he said.
"I have to ask people how it looked afterwards because I can barely remember it."
The 50 kilogram backpack comprises two tanks full of liquid fuel and a centre tank full of gas.
The gas pushes the liquid fuel into a chamber of precious metals that turns the liquid into steam, creating power which comes out two nozzles, one on each side.
Macomber steers by adjusting which way the nozzles are directed.
The Age was entrusted with the keys to the shiny black Renault Megane RS hot hatch that would race against Macomber.
"Just keep left," he warns before take-off.
"Neither of us wants to scratch the $45,000 car.
"If something goes wrong I'll just fly around you."
My trusty co-driver for the mission is model, motorcyclist and AGP ambassador Kate Peck, fresh from a fashion runway event the night before.
In the past month she has ridden pillion on a superbike at 300km/h around Phillip Island, watched a Crusty Demons Moto-X rider jump over a helicopter with its blades running and, later this week, will go for a ride in the two-seater F1 car.
Today, she drew the short straw and got me.
"Go-go-go," she yells as we both take off - our car straight ahead and Macomber straight up.
The sounds of his jet pack is deafening - but Peck's screams drown them out.
Luckily they're screams of joy, not fear.
We get the jump - the Megane can hit 100km/h in about 6 seconds but it takes Macomber about 10 seconds to reach the same velocity.
However, once up to speed he makes ground fast.
I have no idea how fast we are going because I'm looking straight ahead; Peck is looking for him through the sunroof.
As we approach the finish line the jet sound is so loud I think he's above us; but it turns out he was using the thrust to land elegantly.
We won, just.
Now I want my turn on the jet pack.
Macomber will be performing twice a day from Thursday in the infield extreme sports area.