The idea of having superhuman capabilities, especially the ability to fly, has captivated us since at least the time of Ancient Greece, when, in myth, Daedalus fabricated wings so he, and son Icarus, could escape an island. Even the great Leonardo DaVinci created his own flying machines. In modern times, when our current mythology includes Iron Man and other superheroes, the “flying suit” has become the aspiration of many inventors around the world — a human flight suit, not a chunky jet pack. But the limitations of existing technologies, safety and cost restrictions often resulted in unfinished or failed projects.
First personal flight suit similar to Iron Man?
Richard Browning, a British inventor, may be the first to successfully construct a personal flight suit similar to Iron Man (putting aside, rocket packs from the space industry). Unexpectedly, he named it after the Greek Daedalus, rather than Iron Man. Regardless, he is now stuck with the nickname, “Iron Man of Wiltshire.” After working for months on his project and several small test flights, Richard demonstrated his flying suit in front of the audience at the prestigious annual TED conference in Vancouver Canada on 27th of April 2017.
Richard is a 38-year-old ex-Royal Marine with a passion of flying. He was able to develop this suit in his garage over the period of 10 months. When asked about his experience flying in the suit, he said, “It’s like riding a bike in three dimensions.” He named his invention after the Greek mythological craftsman Daedalus. According to Browning, this prototype is just a beginning and the technology will have massive commercial, military, and entertainment applications.
The Specs of a Human Flying Suit
After trying out different configurations, in his final and successful demonstration, Richard used a suit which was made by using six miniature jet engines. These jet engines are similar to the ones used in the production of model aircraft. A rigid exoskeleton is used to support these engines. The engines are connected to the exoskeleton at the back and arms. The combined thrust provided by these engines is approximately 130 Kgs. In the first few experiments, the flight time achieved by Richard was only of a few seconds. However, with constant improvements in the design, his flight time has extended to more than 12 minutes.
Took a Page from Tony Stark
The way in which Richard controls his movements while flying is almost similar to how Tony Stark flies his Iron Man suit in the movies. The first step is to start the thrusters — after that Browning uses small and precise body movements to guide the suit. Pointing the thrusters downward create thrust vectors that push him away from the ground. The forward movement is achieved by backward movement of hands. To come down he pushes his arms outwards.
Richard is in the process of constantly improving his suit adding new innovative features and better control techniques. One of the latest features added to the suit was designed and supplied by Sony. This is a display helmet which displays the fuel levels, helping Richard with constant monitoring of fuel during his flight. The suit has cost Browning almost £40,000 to manufacture. The estimated top speed of this Iron Man suit is an amazing 450 km/h.
Not for the weak-bodied: workout required
This suit, however, is not for weak-bodied people. The thrusters exert extreme pressure on the arms and even Richard who an ex Royal marine, ultra-marathon runner and a triathlete need to keep a tough workout routine. Running 40 km every Saturday, 150 km daily cycling and 3 intense calisthenics session are the part of his weekly workout routine.
The journey towards this invention was inspired by his father who was also an inventor but died when Richard was only a teenager. Working under the name of Project Gravity, Richard is well aware of the commercial aspects of his invention. He also told media that the British military has already shown interest in his invention.
According to Browning “I don’t think anyone is going to be going down to Wal-Mart with it or taking anybody to school for quite a while, but the team at Gravity is moving it along.” It is expected the company will launch its first investment series sometime during this year which will help in improving and better manufacturing of Richard’s Iron Man suit.