Airborne Association: Flying to rescue of stranded motorists, the AA rocketmen (... but before you call, check the date)
Next time you break down on the motorway don't scan the road for the AA van to arrive. Look up in the sky.
The breakdown rescue service is launching a rapid response patrol that will see 'AA Rocketmen' in lightweight jet-packs flitting over traffic jams to reach stranded motorists.
The AA has chosen today, the first day of the annual Easter getaway, to test the service.
Lift off: An AA Rocketman takes to the skies powered by the jet-pack
It follows a series of secret trials at Dunsfold Aerodrome near Guildford.
Film of the early trials shows patrolmen taking off and landing with pin-point accuracy.
Today's test will be carried out on the M25 between Surrey and Heathrow Airport between dawn and noon.
The Transport Department and the Civil Aviation Authority will then rule on whether the scheme can be extended across Britain later this year. The AA, or Automobile Association, was founded to help motorists in distress.
But until now, its solutions have been very much on the ground - with a fleet of vans, motorcycles and electric scooters.
This is the first time the AA has tried to go over the traffic rather than through it to reach stranded drivers.
Up up and away: A patrolman flits between a van and broken-down car in the trials. The AA will test the service for the first day of the annual Easter getaway
'The aim of our AA Rocketman patrols is to give motorists a rapid response,' said Dr Raif Lopol, AA future technologies strategist.
'The idea is not to have AA teams constantly patrolling the skies all the time. Fuel costs alone make that impractical.
'Instead, the AA patrol van parks within a mile of the stricken member and the jetpack pilot launches from the back of the van.'
The jet-packs, which cost £42,000 each, are made of lightweight carbon fibre, have a top speed of 80mph, can reach a maximum height of 8,000ft and have a flying time of ten minutes.
Most importantly they can hover up to 250ft above gridlocked traffic and drop down to a stricken vehicle in areas where a patrol van may not be able to get through.
A parachute is packed for emergencies.
'The initial test flights have gone well,' said AA patrolman and test pilot Hugh Grenoble.
'We're working on an ultra-lightweight toolkit that should allow us to do most quick fix repairs.
'Obviously, we won't be able to do any towing but the benefits more than outweigh this. It will be nice not worrying about potholes for a start.'
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