Life imitates art once more, this time in the form of former Royal Marine-turned inventor-turned entrepreneur Richard Browning. Working from his Salisbury, UK garage, the inventor founded a startup that invented, built, and patented an individual human flight engine that comes as close to Iron Man as anything the world has ever seen – and Richard Browning is as close to Tony Stark as anyone the world has ever encountered.
Browning set out to reimagine what human-powered flight meant, and came out creating a high-speed, high-altitude flight system that has the whole world talking.
In the video above, Browning visits the United States’ East Coast aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest aircraft carrier in the fleet. Technically, he gets to the coast first, departing the carrier via Gravity’s Daedalus system, the name given to what the world has dubbed “the Iron Man suit.”
Of course, the suit is far from the arc reactor-powered repulsor engines that double as energy weapons featured in the comics, but the Daedalus flight system is still a marvel of engineering that has set the world record for fastest speed in a body-controlled jet engine powered suit. That record was set two years ago, and by 2019, Browning made real improvements to the system. The first system was a lightweight exoskeleton attached to six kerosene-powered microturbines. He flew 32 miles per hour to break that record in 2017. In 2019, he flew the suit at 85 miles per hour.
Today, the suit is entirely 3D-printed, making it lighter, stronger, and faster.
“It truly feels like that dream of flying you have sometimes in your sleep,” Browning said. “You are entirely and completely free to move effortlessly in three dimensional space and you shed the ties of gravity.”
In November 2019, Browning flew the suit from the south coast of England to the Isle of Wright, some 1.2 km. This may not sound like much, but it broke another world record, this time for distance in a body-controlled jet engine powered suit. He says the suit can fly at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, but it’s just not yet safe to attempt those speeds. It turns out, it’s just not so easy to control the suit. It takes a massive amount of sustained physical effort to counter the thrust created by the arm engines.
Browning himself is an ultramarathon runner, triathlete, and endurance canoeist. He cycles almost 100 miles a week, including a 25-mile run every Saturday morning, as well as three “intense” calisthenics sessions every week just for the strength and endurance to fly his invention.