Published on Player.One 7/20/17.
Despite what a quick Google search for Richard Browning’s jet-powered flight suit may imply, he didn’t start developing this technology because he’s a fan of Tony Stark. He did it because he wants complete freedom in the sky.
"It’s cool because I like the Iron Man film. It’s a cool concept and it’s nice having built something that’s not too entirely dissimilar. We could have painted it gold and red, and that would have made the point that we are really trying to aspire to recreate it, but no. It has nothing to do with comic books,” Browning told Player.One. "We are trying to make it our own way. It’s just accidental it ended up looking and behaving like Iron Man."
The suit, known as Daedalus, consists of two jet-powered engines on each arm and another on the pilot's back for balance. Pointing the thrusters down pushes him away from the ground, lifting him up. Shifting his arms back propels him forward. It’s coming down the that’s the most tiresome because it takes the most endurance, strength he builds with rigorous workout routines.
“You're deadlifting. You have to lift them up to go down."
The stance, Browning says, is very similar to the way Tony Stark controls his suit in the films and comics. But the aesthetics and safety procedures on Daedalus still need work. His footwear is synthetic; anti-rattlesnake books, to be exact. He wears a black, stretchy suit that at first glance looks almost like scuba gear.
“It’s not very pretty, don’t look too close,” Browning said after the demo outside Mission Brewery, a 10-minute walk from San Diego Comic-Con. “The aesthetics are not a priority, but they are quite important. Some of the stuff on it is not very critical, only providing a bit of protection. There’s no point in not taking the opportunity to look cool, but function is the priority to get the most powerful, the least weight, the most control, the most safe."
One of the most developed parts of the suit is the helmet, which projects and visualizes data from the engines and fuel systems into the visor. Made by DAQRI, it’s an augmented reality display conceptually similar to Iron Man’s helmet.
"Fifteen thousand dollars of augmented reality. It takes data from the suit and paints it holographically in front of me."
Browning says he has flown Daedalus at a top speed of 45-50 mph and as high as 30 feet in the air (unintentionally). Next on the list is developing wings to transition from vertical takeoff to horizontal, which also reduces energy. This would help achieve the “complete freedom of the sky” he envisions.
"If I really had to now, I could go up to 1,000 feet. I could then put it on full power, lean over, then at 120 mph streak across the sky and then come back and land in front of you. The problem is not so much the parachute support because above 300 feet, or 150 feet, a base jump rig will help. It’ll save your life. But what do you do on the way up to that? If I go thunder up to 70 or 80 feet and get an engine failure, I’ll be dead ... So we are working on technology to solve that, and if we solve it, we have complete freedom to do everything. Frankly, you can see it in Iron Man.”
As his technology becomes better, faster and stronger, Browning is willing to take some calculated risks. If one of the engines suddenly develop a fault, spinning him around and landing him on the ground, Browning says the worst that could happen is he breaks an ankle or a wrist. He overcomes the fear by understanding the science behind the tech.
“I lost engines, a lot, in the early days of development. I was never that high and because all of the protective equipment, I never suffered. I will admit that we are now going higher and faster to the point where it's going to hurt more if I have an accident. But you know what, I could get run over by a car crossing the street. It’s a risk-reward thing. I’m confident in understanding the equipment, understanding the risk of there being a problem, so I’m fairly comfortable.”
This isn’t just a side project for Browning. He founded Gravity Industries in March 2017, a startup focused on human propulsion technology with the mission of completely changing the way we think about aviation and flight.
"It’s vision of imagining the challenge of flight but in a way that would leverage the mind and body rather than just sit in a machine. The balance and control, I’m already carrying it, so I may as well use it.”
For more on Richard Browning and the technology he’s developing, visit the Gravity website.