Meet Britain's real-life Iron Man

Richard Browning is ready for take off. He lights his engines, bends his knees, and the next minute he's ascending in...

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 5:26 AM
Updated: Jul 24, 2018 5:27 AM

Richard Browning is ready for take off. He lights his engines, bends his knees, and the next minute he's ascending into the air. He hovers, defying gravity, before he begins to fly up and down an ordinary London street.

No, this isn't a scene from a super hero movie -- this is Britain's real life "Iron Man" in action. Browning has created a state-of-the-art flying suit that rivals anything you've seen on the silver screen.

Want to get a piece of the action? Browning's jet suit is now officially on sale -- for no less than -340,000 (roughly $442,396).

Incredible invention

This incredible invention was built by Browning using 3D printed parts, specialist electronics and five jet engines. Once you've strapped it on and mastered the basics, you can soar at speeds of 32 miles per hour and ascend to altitudes of 12,000 feet.

"I get asked the question, why?" Browning, a 39-year-old former oil trader in the City of London, tells CNN Travel.

"Well, I suppose fundamentally it's I like a challenge."

The inventor was inspired by his time with the Royal Marines -- he worked for some years as a reserve.

"[In] that environment you get to learn quite quickly that you can push yourself to quite some degree," says Browning. "And what would happen if you added some flight horse power to that machine, that can learn to adapt and coordinate in such an elegant way?"

Browning is the son of a maverick inventor and aeronautical engineer. His paternal grandfather was an airline pilot and wartime fighter pilot. His maternal grandfather ran a British helicopter manufacturer.

So you could say the quest for flight runs in the blood.

"I guess the fact that my entire family came from industry does suggest that I've benefited from this sort of genetic behavioral inheritance," muses Browning.

Still, there's no precedent for creating a flying suit. Browning explains that the project was initially just for fun.

"This journey started, really, as an exercise in proving that it was possible to do something formerly only seen in the realms of super hero, comic book films," he says.

"But now we've gone and done it, it's surprising us and seemingly large audiences around the world with just how capable this is."

Real life superhero

Browning began experimenting with creating a jet-powered flying suit, keeping it on the down low at first, to avoid raising expectations.

"I started developing this idea of a novel form of human flight," he says. "And I honestly just did it alongside my day job in evenings and weekends."

As the concept developed, he decided to take the leap from side project to main focus.

"I think you only live life once and I didn't want to have the regret of not pursuing this," he says.

Browning launched his flying company, Gravity, in Spring 2017, based from his home in Wiltshire. The world took notice, and the epithet, "Wiltshire's Iron Man" caught on. Wiltshire's a relatively quiet, rural county in Britain -- a surprising spot to build a superhero flying suit.

"We didn't build this to build an Iron Man suit," clarifies Browning. "It did become apparent quite early on that actually there were some wonderful parallels [...] The Iron Man CGI community that actually did the early films actually reached out to us, joyously, and were very excited to see that it turns out that all their thinking that they'd done around what this might be like, was actually really very accurate.

So it's a great link that I love people to make when they see it."

Buy one for yourself

Now the suit is on sale, more and more people will get the chance to see Browning fly -- and maybe try soaring themselves. Gravity's team says a high profile, as-yet-unnamed client has nabbed the first one.

The 1050bhp Jet Suit by Gravity is officially on sale in upscale department store Selfridges, in London. Even if you don't have the cash to splash, you can still see it up close and experience the effects in VR.

Browning also demonstrates his flying abilities at various events, including the Farnborough Air Show. You can also see a sneak peak on Gravity's Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Browning says there are three levels of experiences on offer.

Option 1: Hiring Gravity for an event watching a man fly with your own eyes.

Option 2: Visiting Browning's hangar to watch and experience the suit in a controlled way.

Option 3: Buying your own Gravity jet suit.

Browning says flying is surprisingly simple.

"People used to think I had some crazy ability to balance and control this," he says. "I can't snowboard, ski, Rollerblade or anything, so I was pretty confident I had no special ability."

"This, strangely, taps into the innate human ability to balance. If you can run across an uneven field, you can absolutely fly this."

Sky's the limit

They've already broken a Guinness World Record, but Browning and his team expect the suit will continue to go from strength to strength. They're currently developing an electric version.

Perhaps it won't be long before the suit's replaced the Segway as the go-to tourism experience.

"When we built this, we didn't really imagine at the outset we'd be revolutionizing human transport, going to the shops or picking up the kids from school," says Browning.

"However, the very first motor car was extremely inefficient -- noisy, smelly and unreliable and people literally derided it. So, in some ways, especially when you look at the work we're doing behind the scenes, at the electric version of this, we might well have opened the door onto a whole new form of human mobility."

So forget private jets or fancy airplanes. Maybe in the future we'll be flying ourselves across the world.

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