Bob Gill Jet Bike Project

Paul Garson
by Paul Garson

If you happened to be watching Super Bowl VIII back on January 13, 1974, or revisited the game more recently via some nostalgia TV channel, you might remember that the game, played at Houston’s Rice Stadium, pitted AFC champion Miami Dolphins and the previous Super Bowl VII champs against the NFC champion Minnesota Vikings.

It was a lopsided 24-7 victory for the Dolphins and their second Super Bowl win in a row. It was a good day to be a Floridian.

I remember because I grew up in South Florida, ate lunch frequently in a barbecue place plastered with Dolphin memorabilia, plus I was still having childhood flashbacks about a dolphin named Flipper.

Bob and the truck rental company he made famous.
Bob jumps 17 cars at New York National Raceway in July, 1972. He used no landing ramp.

Maybe you don’t remember any of that, but chances are you might remember a TV commercial aired during that Super Bowl. It showed a guy on a motorcycle flying over a fleet of Ryder trucks. It was such a hit that it made Ryder the number-one rental truck company. Ryder then aired it during the Super Bowl (a 30-second commercial cost $103,000 in 1974 money!), and some 140,000,000 people saw it, that is, saw daredevil Bob Gill successfully complete the jump.

'Gill was also the first motorcycle jumper to actually jump a canyon on a real motorcycle – 152 feet across the 60-foot-deep.'

Maybe you’re saying, who’s Bob Gill? When most young people think death-defying motorcycle stunts, they think Evel Knievel, of whom Bob Gill was a contemporary. Those that go back a while know about Bob Gill. He began flying bikes through the air in 1970, starting with five cars at a time, that number rapidly increasing.

He also established many firsts. For example, he was the first to jump without a landing ramp. Now think about that for a moment and remember what you may have seen lately when people are jumping bikes. The first ramp is for launch, the second launch is to ease the landing. Bob did not ease the landing. He came down directly on terra firma, sometimes terror infirma. And he was jumping early-1970s streetbikes without the benefit of the modern suspension modifications seen on today’s highly modified and tricked out X bikes. Bob flew far and landed hard, but he always came up grinning.

Gill was also the first motorcycle jumper to actually jump a canyon on a real motorcycle – 152 feet across the 60-foot-deep Cajun Canyon near New Orleans back in 1972 while riding a 400cc Suzuki. He also held the World Record for the longest motorcycle jump: 171 feet over 22 cars, the event taking place in Seattle, Washington in front of 20,000 fans.

Then fate, gravity and a premonition came true. The year, 1973. The place, Appalachia Lake. His wife who had never flinched from any of his previous jumps had one of those feelings and asked him to call it off, to walk away. Wanting to fulfill his contract and not leave his friend the promoter in a lurch by canceling, he went ahead with the attempt to clear a 200-foot gap over the lake. The bike came up short by a couple feet. Bob slammed hard into the lip of the lake bank. That was the sudden end to his bike-jumping career.

Eddie Paul and Bob Gill contemplate construction plans for Gill-a-Monster jet bike. Both have flown high, fallen hard and kept on going.
Not long after his accident, Bob rode 8,000 miles in special sidecar rig through rain, snow, sleet and heat to bring attention to spinal injuries.
Travis was stellar athlete pre-accident, including football, surfing, scuba diving, ATVing.
Eddie is a big fan of Boss Hoss bikes. This one is supercharged and built in a theme of the presidential jet, a.k.a. Air Force One.
Eddie scuba dives with live sharks and creates mechanical Great Whites for movies.

Not quite.

While he’s been in a wheelchair from more than 30 years, he’s kept in shape and recently set his sights on breaking new records, but this time not on a streetbike but a uniquely designed, and propelled, Jet Bike. He’s also never relinquished his commitment to remedy his spinal injury and walk again and to help thousands of others to benefit from a laser-based course of treatment being conducted in France.

His jet bike will be used to focus attention on those efforts and raise sponsorship funding to further develop the treatment and make it available in cities around the world. The Bob Gill Foundation was organized and incorporated in 2007 in the state of Nevada with a non-profit status. Their goal is to bring the treatment presently available only in France to American Hospitals through Shriners Children Hospitals.

At this point I should mention there are several reasons we are joining in this effort. Those would include meeting Bob Gill in person, knowing Eddie Paul, the talent behind the building of the Jet Bike, and learning the story of Travis Robinson, a 22-year-old who also is confined to a wheelchair after a swimming pool accident. Also, there’s the fact that all of us are into bikes.

We also share another common tie: paralysis. Bob and Travis have had years dealing with the condition, while Eddie, after falling several hundred feet in a hang-gliding mishap, lay in a hospital where doctors told him he would never walk again, which he refused to accept. In a few months he was not only back on his feet but quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stuntmen.

As for myself, I was the most fortunate of the group. On my very first bike and learning my ass from my throttle, I did a head-first dive into a parked car wearing a used $12 gold metal-flake helmet. I found myself in a hospital bed unable to move anything but my eyelashes. I think I found out what being buried alive feels like. Fortunately the effects of what the docs call “spinal shock” quickly faded and I made a fast recovery.

Bob, Eddie and I are around the same age, which means we remember black-and-white TV, and for most of those years we’ve been riding motorcycles of all kinds and for all reasons. Travis, only 17 at the time of his accident, was an avid ATV rider.

'Eddie’s list of achievements would fill a book.'

Eddie, who knew Travis’ father Jocko Robinson through his scuba diving activities, brought us all together for a brain storming session at Eddie’s E.P. Industries facility in El Segundo, CA. Eddie himself had been recommended to Bob by Chip Foose, car and bike designer extraordinaire. Chip knew Eddie was the man for the job of building a radical jet bike.

Eddie’s list of achievements would fill a book. He’s built cars for most of the famous car flicks including Stallone, Vin Diesel (XXX), Fast and The Furious and a wild array of other specialty vehicles for numerous TV shows and movies. He’s also worked on projects for the Department of Defense as well as the Cousteau organization which included life-sized Great White mechanical sharks that you climbed inside in order to swim with the real sharks.

We spoke with Eddie about the design and construction going into the Jet Bike concept, as seen here via the computer-generated images he’s conjured up. Measuring about 25 feet long and eight feet wide and five feet tall, it will be what they call a “Tadpole” design as opposed to a delta configuration that has one wheel up front and two in the back. A tadpole has two wheels in front, one drive-wheel in back. A steel- and carbon-fiber body with angular panels similar in design to the Stealth fighter will be placed over the Y-shaped frame, itself welded from tubular steel.

The design allows for Bob to clamp a special wheelchair directly into the jet bike, the position set back about 10 feet from the front wheels. The wheels themselves are connected together for steering while the powerplant is a supercharged Chevy V-8 making about 850 hp, which in turn is connected to a Boss Hoss transmission. The massive rear drive wheel will lay down a quarter mile’s worth of rubber. “Just the Chevy motor alone will get us past 100 mph,” says Eddie. “Then factor in the two pulse jet engines.”

We asked where does one get pulse-jet engines? Hadn’t seen one in the Drag Specialties – or even J.C. Whitney – catalogs. Eddie replies, "One makes them. They’re not off the shelf."

“Just the Chevy motor alone will get us past 100 mph,” says Eddie. “Then factor in the two pulse jet engines.”

Like a funnycar, the steel- and carbon-fiber body of Gill-a-Monster Jet Bike lifts up to allow Bob to roll in and attach his special wheelchair.

Are you making them from recycled Bud and Heineken aluminum cans? “I wish it were that simple. We’re making them from scratch,” says Eddie. “We’ll form them from flat sheets of stainless steel. The pulse-jet design is pretty simple and has been around since WWII. They just take in a fuel, like propane or kerosene, you ignite it and it explodes, flame shooting out the back. They pulse. At rest it sounds like a Chrysler Hemi.”

Even though they only weigh about 200 lbs each, one could put out as much as 2000 pounds of thrust. Also they’ll be arranged so you can set them at different angles, including test-firing them high into the sky for a spectacular effect to say the least. Eddie tells us that the body of the jet gets red hot, almost transparent, and you can see the gases swirling around inside. The pilot, Bob, will accelerate using a motorcycle twist-grip that activates both the Chevy engine and the pulse-jets.

When launching the Gill-a-Monster, Bob will be blasting through 13 “walls of fire” to establish a new world record. Then we asked, how do you stop? Eddie simple says, “Parachutes. Deist parachutes. They’re also making the special race suit for Bob.”

Twin pulse-jet engines produce up 2000 lbs of thrust each. Plus there’s the supercharged Chevy V-8 to add some extra punch.

Summing it up you can call the Gill-a-Monster a combination funnycar/rocket sled/tank. As far as its first appearance, that’s still in the planning stages, but one idea for a location is the Las Vegas Strip. Place your bets. It’s a sure one that Bob Gill will rocket into history once again, and in the process will launch an international effort to remedy spinal injuries and get lots of good people back on two good feet.

Naturally, the project is made possible by sponsors who want to support the effort and in the bargain have their name/logo seen on the Gill-a-Monster jet bike when it roars into action around the country. Stay tuned for latest developments.

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Paul Garson
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