ONa overcast afternoon in a Sussex forest, a 21st century superhero shows up. Dressed in black, wearing a helmet, a back and a jet in his arms, he soars several meters above the ground, speeds up on a bank of grass and then flies in a cloud of leaves. vortex collection.
No matter how many times you’ve watched a YouTube video, nothing can prepare you for the sight of a person in flight. It embodies thousands of mythological stories, from Hermes and Peter Pan to Iron Man, as well as millions of childhood dreams, and is the only correct answer to the old conundrum: you will choose any super powers, stealth or fly? If it weren̵7;t for the roar of a jet engine and the smell of fuel, you’d think it was just a dream.
Back on Earth, jet silent, helmet, superhero revealed. Not Clark Kent or Tony Stark, but Richard Browning, 41, a former oil businessman, now an entrepreneur, innovator, flyer. “It’s the most joyous, free, dream-like state,” he said of the experience. “When you’re riding a bike, you don’t think about turning the wheel or balancing, you just think: I would cycle that way. Imagine that in three dimensions, you have complete freedom to move and go wherever you like. “
Clever, confident, rather powerful, it’s no surprise to learn that while making a lot of money in the City, Browning also spent six years in the Royal Marines reserve force. (Although his earlier decision not to attend the officer training course at Sandhurst is probably related to his hobby of tearing up the rule book rather than following it.)
Going a little further back, Browning has aviation, innovation and jet fuel in his blood. One grandfather was a civilian and wartime pilot, while the other had previously operated a Westland Helicopter. Browning’s father was an aeronautical engineer, inventor, and designer maverick. As a child, Richard worked with his father to build and fly balsawood gliders.
The flight was inevitable, but the manner of it was surprising. “I believe you can train your body and brain to do some pretty cool things,” he said. “Walking and running is great when you think about it. I believed that if you just need to add the missing component of horsepower, you can fly in a very different way. ”
The extra horsepower is what he did. Four years ago, he grabbed a tiny gas turbine, plus another, tied them to his arm and jumped up and down in a field. Then he jumps a few more, jumps a little higher, adds more turbines, drops a lot … and finally flies. “No business reason, no logic, I just thought it would be fun,” he said.
Also, he now realized, a deep personal reason. Though he left his day job to pursue his inventions, Browning’s father was unable to make money from them and in despair, he committed suicide when his son was 15 years old. . My father was just one of thousands of people who had the idea, tried it out. It didn’t happen and it ended up paying the price for its life. I grew up on that. Now I blatantly enjoy taking on new challenges and trying to push their limits, probably to do well what I didn’t see happen as a child. “
His dad loves what he’s doing, he said. But what is he doing? What is the purpose of all? “The main thing, which sounds hard to hear, is entertainment.”
Browning and his company Gravity Industries, now a multi-million dollar organization with investment from people like Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, perform flight shows at events – such as the opening of a baseball stadium in Japan or a car launch in China. They are planning a series of races, although that has been halted by the pandemic. And they have training days at Goodwood. At £ 6,000 a time, the wealthy can come and go, although bound by leash to avert any unplanned Icarus incidents.
He argues that the era – Covid, Brexit, Trump – has helped to spur public interest, that it is about “the metaphor of free, weightless and unbound free break, go to vote. heaven and the stars. I don’t think people are consciously aware of it, but I think it shows it. ”
Browning is not the only way to get to the sky. This year, someone carried a jetpack flying around LAX airport in Los Angeles. Frenchman Franky Zapata crossed the Canal last year on his jet skis. And an American company, JetPack Aviation, boasts that they can fly a single person to an altitude of 15,000ft (4,600 meters).
You might think the sky will soon be filled with people tumbling around, but (perhaps lucky for the environment) Browning says that the jetpack will become the primary means of transportation. “I never developed it with that in mind. I started this journey purely with the idea of having fun with something the common mind deems impossible. “
However, keep in mind that the first motorcycles were considered noisy, unreliable and dangerous – very technologically inferior to horses. “I’m not running around telling people that there will be a revolution tomorrow,” Browning said. “We just enjoyed the journey and see where it is going.”
That doesn’t mean he has no hope. “Can you imagine, with a battery capacity that is 10 times more energy-dense and safe than gasoline, diesel and jet fuel can do, an electric hover suit can be managed automatic so that it does not exceed three or four meters and an airbag deployment system makes the bike completely safe, equivalent to cycling. “
Looks like the real-world applications may already be here. Browning says his company is talking to both the British and US military. “I would say there is a very healthy partnership. There is a suitable special force application. If you have to take a human anywhere within a radius of three or four kilometers from here, through minefields, through earthquake disaster areas, forests, across rivers, I don’t care if it’s night or there. hurricane blowing, I can start with the latest version of this in 10 seconds and be there. “
Ambulance teams in Lake District could soon be joined by jetsuit paramedics, after a recent trial showed they could reach injured pedestrians or climbers within a short amount of time that the team Traditional mountain rescue required.
Andy Mawson of Great North Air ambulance service, which ran a test alongside the Gravity, told me: “It’s great what you can do with a minimal set of equipment.” A 10- or 15-pound kit that ties into a flying paramedic’s legs and forelegs can even include a lightweight defibrillator, airway management equipment and some medications. “It is not out of the question that if Helvellyn had stopped the heart, we would be able to capture that patient within eight minutes.”
Mawson saw a situation where a paramedic steered from a car with a jet pack on board, somewhere in the heart of Lake County near the most common crashes, ready to go. call: probably a broken leg at Scafell Pike. He likened it to a city motorbike medical officer. A jetpack won’t get you to the hospital, but it will bring a trained person to you quickly, to sort your breath, blood flow, or pain.
He’s done the one-day training, and the service is in serious discussion with Gravity on how to make dreams come true. “It’s a possibility that we might see late next summer,” he said.
Back in the slightly less challenging terrain of the South Downs, now it’s my turn. I am here to experience this blissful, dreamlike state for myself. The bag is strapped to my back, the jets enter my arms and I am wearing ear protectors.
There is a raised metal structure with a truss. I was trying to think about going to the main stage in Glastonbury rather than doing it myself, that was the same feeling. The executioner was Browning’s assistant, Ryan, who tied me to the gallows. On the other end of it is a counterweight: I’ll need all the help I can get. Then the jets were shot up. I hesitantly squeezed the trigger under my right finger.
It was a strange, thrusting sensation flowing through the arm. Browning, standing in front of me, pointed out that I should lean forward as if I put weight on my arm and I could feel the weight drop … then turned so that I faced the other side. After a few more tries, my legs are about to leave the ground a few inches, but it’s probably mostly Ryan pulling on the other end. Less Iron Man, more Tin Man from Wizard of Oz. A small step, however, as they say.
Okay, I’ll get one, how much? Browning says they’re not really for sale. “We did sell a few, but only to those we trained to, who would not give up desperately wanting to own them.
“And we keep their clothes, we never let anything get out of our sight. It’s like a Formula car – who sells a Formula One car? It’s too dangerous unless you know what you’re doing with it ”.
Go on, I don’t give up, how much? The last one costs £ 340,000. Pretty much for one thing you can’t even bring home.
How dangerous is it? “It’s just as risky to choose to fly,” Browning said. Unlike Zapata, who flies very high, Browning only flies a few meters from the ground, “so high that I would be reluctant to accept falling. So, the worst is a twisted ankle or broken leg ”. However, he reached 85mph.
Everything can go wrong, even on the ground. Top launch platform after i’m a paying client, have the day’s last effort to get overhead. Suddenly there were flames coming from the jet, and in frightening seconds it might seem like there might be a moment of Icarus. But Ryan quickly approached it with a fire extinguisher. They think some sort of rear engine failure and will investigate.
“In four years in this job, that was the only time we ever used a fire extinguisher,” said Browning, who seemed slightly confused for the first time.
The client was fine, and notably there was no difference, although he admitted: “Well, not quite as I expected the day to end.” I can hold on to my order and wait for the electric hover kit with airbags. Meanwhile, what about the other superpower, the only one who gets close? “It’s funny you should say that, about the intangible,” Browning said. “I really have a plan on that.”