Exclusive: Talking jetpacks with a real-life Iron Man

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Apr 1, 2017, 1:02 PM EDT

Have you ever wanted to zoom across the sky at warp speed in Iron Man’s bionic suit? Richard Browning is one rocket blast closer to becoming the next Tony Stark.

Aeronautics zooms through this scientific rebel’s veins. A third-generation aeronautical engineer, Browning sought to reverse the typical inclination to enhance machines with human abilities and instead take the human body to the other extreme—adding jet fuel.

“By definition, you can’t go and create something new if you’re entirely staying within the boundaries of what the status quo is,” said Browning, founder of super-powered startup Gravity Industries.

What started out as a human propulsion experiment turned into something that looks like it leaped straight out of an action comic. His futuristic Daedalus flight suit, which kind of looks like a fantasy Marvel-DC merger in which Bruce Wayne’s Batsuit got fueled by Stark technology, reimagines human flight by essentially using the body as an airframe. Not to mention it has high-tech trappings like foolproof fuel alerts via medical bubble detectors and a Heads-Up display that keeps you updated on safety and performance indicators like when you need to refuel. It’s even equipped with Wifi to livestream data.

Blast off to the gym if you ever want to get airborne, because human arms and legs control and direct thrust. Meaning, you need to be able to support the power of six jet engines while suspended in the air. Browning’s rigorous regimen of cardio, weights and calisthenics could easily put him in the running for to be the next international Ninja Warrior or (no pun intended) Ironman finalist, though that was never his intent. He bikes nearly a hundred miles a week and can pull off gymnastics moves that defy gravity without launching any rockets. You might mistake this video of him for a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie.

Syfy Wire caught up with Browning (if only for a moment before he zoomed away) for an exclusive interview discussing the science of being a real-life Iron Man.


Syfy Wire: What are the physics behind how the suit works with the human body?

Richard Browning: It's very simple: We have six jet engines, two on each arm and two on the lower back, connected by a specially fueled cell and distribution system. Once powered on, I'm controlling the thrust vertically by the angle of my arms and the power level of the engines. I control forward, backward, left and right movement by using the movement of my arms and body—exactly like Iron Man would do. It is this approach to body-mounted engines and thrust control via human center movement that drives our patent-pending technology. 

SFW: How is your training specifically targeted towards taking flight?

RB: Calisthenics (urban gym as per the film) is great for core strength, balance and especially shoulder strength & stability. Ultra-marathons keep you light and lean, so It's all about power to weight ratio. However, this is the first generation of the technology and you will see rapid advancements in control and lift allowing a much simpler use for people who aren't training regularly. 

SFW: What is the highest and furthest you have been able to travel in the suit?

RB: The truth is, I could hit the accelerator, point my arms down and go to thousands of feet in a few seconds, but I'm not going to do that until we have made the system safe at those heights, which is a matter of time. More testing, development and training makes sense to keep a sensible altitude and speed. The system does have the power and maneuverability to execute flights at hundreds of feet and travel several miles at very high speeds. This is all part of our rapid development plan. By the end of the year, we want to be travelling at speeds faster than any jet pack that's ever existed and maneuvering above ground in a way that's never been possible before.

Browning ready for takeoff.

So when will this thing be available to ordinary humans? Don’t prepare for your morning jetpack commute just yet. Daedalus will have to go through several iterations before that really is a thing, though taking into account all the gear and technology that goes into the exoskeleton suit, you’ll probably need to have Stark Enterprises finance it.