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Meet the real-world Iron Man who defies gravity in his DIY jetpack

Richard Chapman

Richard Browning’s teenage sons don’t think that what their dad does is especially cool. That’s okay. Most teenagers feel the same way about their parents. But most teenagers don’t have a dad whose homemade, Guinness Record-breaking jetpack suit makes him perhaps the closest thing the world has to a real-life Iron Man.

“I used to drag [my sons] out at weekends to mess around with the latest prototype,” Browning told Digital Trends. “Often, [these demos] weren’t particularly spectacular. Sometimes they wouldn’t even get off the ground.”

Things have changed since then, of course. Browning’s Daedalus Flight Pack has transformed him into something of a celebrity in certain corners of the internet. Better still, when he was asked to come and perform a demonstration at one of his kid’s schools, it made his kids realize that, perhaps, their dad could just be a real-life Tony Stark.

It’s a bit like riding a bicycle or skiing. You think about where you want to go and your body intuitively goes there.

“My eldest son was there capturing some fun drone shots,” he said. “He was sitting on a little bench with several hundred of his school friends pressed up against this fence in a safe area. I think it dawned on him [at that point] that their reaction was conveying the degree of excitement. He was noticing that, OK, maybe this isn’t totally normal.”

Like riding a high-speed flying bicycle

The 41-year-old British inventor’s Daedalus Flight Pack first rose to prominence (no pun intended) in 2017. That was the year that Browning first showcased his spectacular flying suit, capable of letting its wearer soar through the sky at impressively high speeds, courtesy of five small portable jetpacks attached to their hands, feet, and back.

Yemi A.D.

“The way this thing flies is very much an intuitive part of your body,” Browning told Digital Trends. “It’s a bit like riding a bicycle or skiing or one of those things where it’s just about you thinking about where you want to go and your body intuitively going there. You’re not steering some joystick or a steering wheel. We’ve had people learn to do this in four or five goes — with each go just lasting around 90 seconds. All credit to the human subconscious — it’s just this floating, dreamlike state.”

A floating dreamlike state that’s capable of rocketing the wearer at up to 85.06 miles per hour, as was the case with Browning’s late 2019 Guinness rocord rum in which he performed a public flyby of the U.K.’s iconic Brighton Palace Pier.

“I genuinely wanted to do this for the joy of the challenge.”

Before he decided to build jetpacks for a living, Browning worked as an oil trader. This let him save up some money, but was not particularly fulfilling. Wanting to push himself, he joined the Royal Marine Reserves, a volunteer reserve force similar to the United States Army Reserve. “It really woke me up to just what the human mind and body is capable of when you really push it,” he said.

Build a jetsuit. Travel the world

In his late 30s at the time, Browning decided to pursue a longtime dream: Building a jetsuit that would create a propulsive force capable of safely lifting a human off the ground (and then returning them there) in a controlled manner.

“I did it at a time in life where I felt I had enough financial freedom that would not burden this immediately from day one as being a kind of paying-the-mortgage type endeavor,” he said. “I genuinely wanted to do this for the joy of the challenge.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The jetsuit was a big hit. In the years since then, Browning has traveled around the world showing off the jetsuit at various events. In three years, the so-called Gravity Industries team performed at 105 events in 31 countries, from the United States and China to Saudi Arabia and his native U.K. Certain gigs paid him up to $100,000 plus expenses to take to the sky in his jetsuit.

“It turned out quite miraculously that all of the equipment fit in two check-in suitcases,” he said. “So you can literally go anywhere in the world and, within 20 minutes of arriving at your destination hotel, you get some diesel from a gas station and you’re off. That was quite a ridiculous, unintended benefit of the design.”

Refining the jetsuit

Browning has continued to refine his jetsuit along the way. The current suit is more sophisticated than the one from just a few years back, and Browning has developed an electric version and a heavy-lift version, and is constantly exploring ways to modify the suit to improve the overall experience. (Right now he’s tinkering with the wings to find new ways to break his speed record yet again.)

Edwin Van Keulen

He’s also considering new applications, such as search and rescue with his old colleagues from the Royal Marine Reserves. There are ways for members of the public to try it out, too. A full suit can be purchased for a mere $446,000 or, if that’s a bit steep, Gravity Industries offers one day “experiences” in Los Angeles or the U.K. where people can try it in a safe, tethered environment. (British adventurer Bear Grylls and his son recently stopped by to have a go.)

Will it become the next mass transport? “It’s very noisy and potentially dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Browning acknowledged. “There are a bunch of challenges. But then, if you take a step back and look at the first motorcars, people said they were noisy, smelly, and inefficient. They said they were terrible compared to a horse.”

To put it another way, keep watching the skies. You never know when the jetsuit’s going to hit it big!

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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