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Smithsonian Festival Features Drones, a Jet Pack, and Special Permission From the FAA

The FAA is allowing the demonstration of flying machines that are usually banned in DC.
The Smithsonian's jet pack model will probably be less rudimentary than this. Photograph via Shutterstock.

If you see a person floating over the plaza outside the Ronald Reagan Building on Saturday, don’t freak out. It’s just someone strapped to a jet pack.

Smithsonian magazine’s The Future Is Here Festival this weekend includes an introduction to personal delivery drones, similar to those teased last year by Amazon, and a demonstration of a jet pack designed for human use. However, one does not simply take flight in such close proximity to the White House.

The drone segment will take place inside the building, but in order to pull off the jet-pack showcase, Smithsonian needed the Federal Aviation Administration to ease up on its heavy restrictions that govern the airspace around DC. Usually, the FAA prohibits nearly all types of non-government aircraft, from hang-gliders to remote-controlled planes.

Despite nearly 100 years of science fiction promises and occasional interest from the military, jet packs remain firmly out of reach for nearly everyone. Conversely, the use of drones for personal and commercial use is expanding rapidly, and not just when Amazon teases its planned drone-delivery service. Although it might block them from the air over Washington, the FAA estimates there could be as many as 7,500 commercial drones buzzing around the skies by 2018.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.