The human jet suit appeared in not just one but two James Bond films. The first one, ‘Thunderball’, dates back to 1965. A UK start-up called Gravity Industries is busy making the jet suit a commercial (and safe) reality.
Richard Browning, the founder and Chief Test Pilot at Gravity Industries, is a real-life rocketman. He describes his childhood as spent growing up around his aeronautical engineer father, tinkering in his workshop and flying model gliders with him.
After hatching the idea to “achieve an entirely new form of authentic human flight”, he achieved the first flight in November 2016 with a small gas turbine on the back of each leg and two on each arm.
Gravity Industries was formed in April 2017. Since then it has executed live flight events in 31 countries and is scaling towards an International Race Series featuring the next generation of the Jet Suit.
“The Mk 2 consists of a pair of micro jet engines on each arm situated just below the elbow and between them it feels like the thrust is coming up through your arms. Then there is the larger engine on the back, either side of the larger engine we have twin fuel bladders which hold jet fuel or road diesel and can hold around 20 litres of fuel. Between those 5 engines there is enough thrust to lift a human off the ground,” explains Browning.
Gravity’s Jet Suit can typically fly for approximately 3-4 minutes. When fully fuelled, it weighs around 30kg, it is 1050bhp and produces 144kg of thrust.
“The Jet Suit is controlled by vectoring, meaning you control your flight by altering the direction of your arms. Pointing down to go up and when you ‘flare’ your arms a little out to the sides you go down, the rest of the control becomes very intuitive, not dissimilar to how effortless it becomes to ride a bicycle with your subconscious balance system doing all the work,” notes Browning.
He tells us how it feels to fly using the Suit. “As you squeeze that trigger and feel the thrust come in, you feel your weight get lighter and lighter off your feet and then suddenly you’re free, the ties of gravity fall away and it’s just peaceful, and then you realise you can go anywhere you want. You can simply think about where you want go and you go there, it is the ultimate realisation of the dream of human flight.”
Safety is Key
Browning says the Jet Suit is remarkably safe but there are risks if the pilot decides to fly unsafely high or over unsafe terrain.
“We limit the majority of our flying to over grass, water or low altitude, so the risk of failure is minimised and not dissimilar to falling off a motorcycle. We also never fly over people or property, which further mitigates any potential incidents. The fuel we use is jet fuel or road diesel, both of which are non-volatile fuels and are far less dangerous than gasoline.”
He adds: “There is no heat issue as it does not percolate through or transmit through the equipment and the only heat coming from the Suit is from the exhaust which doesn’t come anywhere near the pilot and loses energy very quickly.”
We are committed to pushing the boundaries of what human and machine technology can achieve.
Having delivered over 100 events across the globe, Browning has decided to take the project a step further and launch a competitive international race series featuring multiple pilots. In order to do this safely, each race will take place over a body or water such as lakes, rivers and seafronts next to major cities.
“Delivered directly in front of the audience the spectacle will draw upon a heady mix of the Red Bull Air Race and F1, but on a more intimate scale with at least six 1050bhp Jet Suits piloted by male and female pilots from different countries and backgrounds.
“The Race Series will push the boundaries of human and technological capabilities. It will be the new frontier of visceral live action entertainment that also transfers very powerfully over digital mediums,” he adds.
Commercially, Gravity is concentrating on the race series, public flight events and client training. “We are going to carry on with our ‘do learn do’ approach as we grow our Race Series whilst at the same time leaving a trail of engaged pilot enthusiasts who want to either join our Flight Club and fly with us or share our experiences through social media. In parallel, we also have a large-scale Military, and Search & Rescue stream of work.”
“Those routes that do not pay off commercially provide us with invaluable learning for the way forward. After all, we are in the privileged and but also challenging position of drawing on a blank canvas in this new industry of human flight,” says Browning.
New Year Resolutions
Browning says that Gravity is committed to pushing the boundaries of what human and machine technology can achieve, and hopefully inspire the next generation. So what’s in store for Gravity in 2021?
“We are focusing on the entertainment world. Currently we offer commercial flight training to those who wish to join the select few who have experienced true human flight as part of our Flight Club at our home at the world-famous Goodwood Estate. Our International Race Series will offer a new dimension in sports entertainment, both live and on our digital platforms, celebrating the human endeavour and the spirit of adventure.”
“The long-term plans for the Race Series would be to continue to gain momentum from subsequent events, and steadily sale to become recognised as a global attraction and begin to host the races in some of the world’s most iconic waterfront locations attracting and inviting celebrities to watch and even race with us,” concludes Browning.