Glenn Martin found an unlikely guinea pig to test his first jetpack: his wife, Vanessa, who had given birth to their second son just six weeks before the maiden flight, in 1998. "She would strap into the pack, do a test run, then go back and check on the baby," Martin recalls.

Three years ago, his company, Martin Aircraft, unveiled a final version of the Martin Jetpack. The device has two massive side-mounted fans and is powered by a 2-liter, 200-horsepower engine that runs on standard gasoline. It can lift an individual up to 8,000 feet in the air and travel at a maximum speed of 63 mph for a distance of 31 miles, beating the overall performance of many other jetpacks. Though he originally focused on the leisure market, Martin is now working mainly on military and civil defense applications for the jetpack, including an unmanned version, the Skyhook UAV, which is set to debut in 2011. The Skyhook could be used to conduct reconnaissance missions, he says, or to repair transmission towers on mountaintops.

For Martin, the jetpack is a culmination of a lifelong goal that began while he watched Lost in Space as a kid. After college, he worked in the pharmaceutical industry before founding Martin Aircraft in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1996. The company has 10 employees and, says Martin, $750,000 in annual revenue generated from classified research projects.

The Martin Jetpack doesn't have much in common with Professor Robinson's apparatus, which had a seemingly endless supply of fuel and could position him both horizontally and vertically. The real-life version is much bulkier, stays at a vertical tilt of about 35 degrees in flight, and requires refueling every couple of hours. "Fiction had an idea of what this looks like," Martin says. "We produce something that works."