31 October 2020 – Kidspot.com.au
Meet the woman planning to fly across Australia without wings
by Jenna Martin
Fewer people have flown a jetpack than have walked on the moon… but that’s not stopping Jen Bewes from dreaming big and never giving up.
Just a few short years ago, Jen Bewes hadn’t even stepped foot in a helicopter. Now, she flies them for a living.
“I took my first helicopter trip in Maui in 2016,” Jen says. “I was in the midst of a very busy time in my corporate life… there was so much going on for me, and yet I was flown to the top of this mountain and standing there I just felt ‘centred’… I’d heard that word before but never experienced it…”
She says she looked around her and felt nothing but peace and calm for the first time in forever. “The beauty of the helicopter was a big part of that.”
She returned home to Sydney and promptly started helicopter flying lessons and loved it so much, just a year later she gave up a 20-year corporate career to pursue flying full-time.
“I didn’t expect to discover this passion that was so incredibly deep,” she confesses. “How do you get so far into your life – 42 years in my case – and not realise that this passion exists?” Jen says she just fell in love with helicopters. “It made me wonder what else there was and how I might activate that.”
Jen – or ‘HeliJen’ as she has become known – is big on discovering, and activating your passion, whatever that may be. And while ‘becoming a helicopter pilot in your mid-40s’ might be enough passion-chasing for some people, for Jen, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter exploring the possibilities of flight.
A world record in her sights
Her mission? To be the first person to fly across Australia without wings – in a jetpack – setting a Guinness World Record by doing so.
To Jen, the idea of jetpack-ing across the country makes total sense. “I thought about how, if there were no barriers, I’d want to live my life,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’d be investing my time in things that make me feel alive… time is the only finite resource we have and yet we budget money, but we don’t budget our time.” Jen says she wondered, “what’s stopping me? If you can dream it, you can do it… you don’t want to live a life of regret.”
Netflix Over The Moon: Meet Heli-Jen, the jetpack pilot
As you can imagine, it’s not as simple as strapping on an engine and shooting off into the sky. “Fewer people have flown a jetpack than have been on the moon,” Jen laughs. “It also only has a five-minute fuel capacity as there’s a limit to how much weight versus thrust you can carry on your back… it’s a personal machine – it’s not like an aircraft – so it’s very physically demanding and I’m no athlete,” she explains. “At this stage it’s looking like I’ll be flying from Perth to Sydney, bunny-hopping in five-minute increments, every day for about ten weeks.” The physical and mental resilience will be huge. “It’s massively challenging,” she admits.
Jen started training in California earlier this year, but then COVID hit and she was forced home. Not one to dwell on a missed opportunity, she decided to create an environment where she could train in Australia, instead. But she ran into an early hurdle when she couldn’t actually find a jetpack that was suitable for her. “All the commercially available jetpacks are designed for men,” she says. “So first of all, I needed to find a 3D aerospace cab designer because I need to make a chest plate that fits women!” Unsurprisingly, she did just that: she found a designer and the suit should be ready for her to begin training early next year with a launch set for the end of 2021.
Over the moon
It’s this determination to conquer any obstacle in her path that connected Jen to the character of Fei Fei in Over the Moon, the new Netflix film that follows a young, science-obsessed girl who decides to build her own rocket and fly off to the moon.
“I love this movie because this girl sees all the adults around her judging her, with all these rules, and she says regardless she’s going to do what she wants, because she believes… I don’t think there’s anything more powerful in life than the belief that you can, and I think the more we can spread that to our children, the better.”
Jen has jumped on board to help promote the film, not just because of the deeper message about following your dreams, but because she’s thrilled to see a film featuring a young, STEM-loving girl at the centre. On a personal level, Jen knows a bit about where Fei Fei is coming from, as a young girl building her own rocket to launch into space. “There’s not a lot of women in STEM, let alone women who are collaborating with NASA to build their own jetpacks,” she says, “so I can relate!”
“Find your own journey”
Jen hopes that kids out there who watch the movie – and who read more about her own journey – are inspired simply to pursue their dreams. “I don’t want to set any sort of benchmark and say ‘this is what you need to do’,” she says, “it’s more about finding your own journey. Find your own passion. It doesn’t have to be the first thing you come up with: that’s not failure, that’s learning. My own kids are now almost grown up – they’re 18 and 20 – but my hope for them is that they get things wrong and keep trying.”
She also thinks one of the miraculous things about life is it takes you to unexpected places if you’re open to the experience. “One of my big takeaways from Over the Moon is that Fei Fei sets off on this mission to prove a point, to prove she can,” Jen says, “and she comes back with something different… at its core, she wanted to triumph over technology, and she did, but it taught her something fundamental about love and about being human.”
It’s that connection between humanity and technology that is why Jen loves flying so much. “When you’re flying, be it in a helicopter or in a jetpack, you’ve got three key challenges: There’s the human element – a human operating a machine – you’ve got the technology to manage and you’ve got mother nature. It’s like being at the eye of the storm, monitoring all these things and yet there’s a strange calmness that comes with it. And that feeling when you lift off the ground, it’s almost meditative. It’s a beautiful experience. It’s when I feel most alive.”