The Greatest Rocketman
Brian M. Milton
Jeffrey (Jeff) R. King died last week in dramatic circumstances. A thing many of those who knew him would have expected.
Jeffrey was born to wealthy Boston parents in 1910. His upbringing, like many of that social class and time, was a cold affair conducted by a succession of nannies and school teachers. His father, the eminent discover of the Atomic Dynamo, was always busy with his work, either deep in study of the, at the time, wonderful new science of Atomics or travelling the capitals of the world, selling to Kings, Governments and Despots alike. Jeffrey himself never talked of his parents and the general opinion was that, while not hating them, he was happy to only meet them occasionally.
Jeffrey first came to public prominence in the summer of 1943 when the fighter he was piloting over the Pacific came under fire from three Japanese Zeros. He managed to shoot down two of them and, despite his plane being damaged, chased the third one back to its carrier. Running out of fuel and with his radio damaged Jeffrey saw no alternative but to point his plane directly at the assembled aircraft on the Japanese carrier's deck and eject. The subsequent explosion and fire sent up enough smoke to alert the US carrier group in the area who promptly steamed over and engaged the carrier, sinking it for minimal damage on their side. Jeffrey, who was picked up after four hours in shark infested water, immediately apologised for the loss of his plane. It was this level of bravery and wit that brought him to the attention of the newspapers and made him, by the time the war ended, one of the most famous airmen the US had.
After the war Jeffrey took up the running of his father's company. His father had died of a heart attack just after completing his work on the Manhattan Project. Not, as some have claimed, at the realisation of how much death and destruction his work had wrought but, according to his death certificate, from a diet too rich in cheese. It took a couple of years for Jeffrey to bed in but soon he was combining his father's work on Atomic Power with the ideas he had gathered from a spell at Peenemunde in Germany helping to gather up as much of the German's Wartime rocket research as possible. This eventually led, in 1951, along with the help of Doctor Millard, to the creation of the Personal Propulsion Rocket. Or Rocket Suit as the press called it. This would have been a remarkable achievement at any time. A pack worn on the back which, using Atomic Power, propelled the wearer at speeds of up to one hundred miles an hour while being manoeuvrable enough to allow a safe landing on top of a moving vehicle.
This pack, along with a suit and distinctive helmet which protected the occupant, was destined to be sold to the US military until the arrival of Doctor Vulcan on the scene. Still to this day no one has identified who this mad genius was despite many attempts. The assumption has always been that he was sponsored by the Soviet Union. They being the ones who had the most to gain from his near total destruction of Manhattan and the subsequent disruption to the US economy at the point when the Free World needed it the most. There have been other suggestions that it may have been the British or French, both of whom stepped into the gap made by the US's financial troubles. The most obvious example being when they forced Abdul Nasser from power in Egypt and restored the Suez Canal to its colonial, corporate owners a couple of years later.
This speculation, fun as it can be, never takes away from the great service Jeffrey King made to his country in those days. He battled Doctor Vulcan and his henchmen for several months, narrowly avoiding death on an almost weekly basis, before finally defeating the villain just as he was attempting to destroy New York entirely.
Jeffrey hoped to return to his company unmolested after his adventures as King of the Rocketmen, as the press quickly dubbed him, but this was not to be. Manhattan was part ruined. The US economy dived into a slump as panic about a possible Communist Invasion led to market distortions and hoarding. The press sought out everything they could on this disaster and initially Jeffrey was vilified for allowing it to happen. Of course, after the Congressional hearings Jeffrey was recognised for the true hero he was and awarded the Medal of Honor in 1955.
To escape some of this unwanted attention Jeffrey took a back seat in his company and passed it over to his second in command, a man probably more famous to the youth of today, Commando Cody. Cody took the company forward, being one of the first private enterprises into space and, famously, visiting the moon and thwarting its leader's plans for Earth.
Jeffrey continued to work in the background, building collaborations with the British Rocket Group and the European Space Agency that led to the eventual building of the International Space Station in the Nineteen Eighties. However his heart was always in Personal Propulsion and he continued to work on refinements to his Rocket Packs throughout his life. It was one of his greatest regrets that Personal Rocket Propulsion did not become more common but the Federal Aviation Authority would never licence them for public use after the terrible accident that ended Commando Cody's life in Fifty Nine when he collided with an airship over San Francisco harbour.
Jeffrey was a driven man with little time for matters beyond rockets. He married Mae Clarke in Nineteen Fifty Three but then divorced in Sixty Two before they had any children. So it is that his remaining shares in Cody Laboratories will go to Commando Cody's children after his tragic accident last week at the opening of the Los Angeles Olympics. The full details of the accident have yet to be released to the public but it is safe to say that once again he showed his heroic streak.
Jeffrey King personally paid for the Personal Rocket Propulsion suit that was to light the Olympic flame and it is no surprise that he volunteered to pilot it. What was unexpected was the direction in which the doves, released to symbolise peace, took. They appear to have flown up out of the stadium as intended and then, abruptly turned back just as Jeffrey was flying in. It must have been terrible for him to suddenly find himself amongst a barrage of doves, blocking his view and knocking him off balance. But Jeff, ever the professional and true American Hero, steered away from the stands of innocent spectators and shot up out of the stadium. From the footage that has been watched over and over these last few weeks we can see Jeff in his last moments desperately struggling, piloting his malfunctioning rocket pack out to sea and away from the packed stadium before it finally exploded.
As he had back in those fateful days of 1951, Jeffrey King, King of the Rocketmen, put his life on the line and was truly heroic.
Jeffrey R. King aka King Of The Rocketmen. 12/04/10 - 07/28/84