Buffalo in the ’60s: Rocket belting around Lafayette Square

By Steve Cichon

To most Americans, the thought of a man flying around with a rocket pack on his back seems like something from 1960s science fiction.

The people of Buffalo, however, are more likely to remember the Bell Rocket Belt as science fact.

Buffalo News archives

Throughout the mid-’60s, Wheatfield-based Bell Aerospace took dozens of opportunities to show off the hydrogen peroxide-powered device that the company was initially developing for the U.S. Army.

In October 1965, Bell engineers took the belt pack into downtown Buffalo, and News cameras were there to capture the flight in front of the Rand Building and around Lafayette Square.

Office workers looked out the windows in amazement, while folks outside on the sidewalk — including a police officer and women in headscarves — took in the flight with a combination of awe and distress over the noise the rocket pack made during flight.

The Bell Rocket Belt worked — but it was limited by two key drawbacks. One, flights couldn’t last longer than 21 seconds, and two, there was no way to land safely if the device failed mid-flight.

In the end, military brass tagged the Bell Rocket Belt as “spectacular toy” more than an efficient transportation device, and development was scuttled.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.