British inventor lifts off in 'Iron Man' flight suit

The suit, powered by thrusters, has attracted attention from investors and the military

VANCOUVER • British inventor Richard Browning lifted off from the shore of Vancouver Harbour in a personal flight suit that inspired references to comic superhero Iron Man earlier this week.

Using thrusters attached to his arms and back, he flew in a circle and hovered a short distance from the ground, captivating attendees at a prestigious TED Conference on Thursday.

The personal flight suit is capable of propelling wearers much higher and faster, according to its creators.

"The hypothesis was that the human mind and body, if properly augmented, could achieve some pretty cool stuff," the extreme athlete and engineer said at the gathering.

Mr Browning told of experimenting with various numbers and arrays of essentially miniature jet engines on his limbs. Along the way, he said, there were more than a few crashes to the ground.

Engineer Richard Browning flew in a circle and hovered a short distance from the ground while wearing the personal flight suit at a TED Conference in Vancouver.
Engineer Richard Browning flew in a circle and hovered a short distance from the ground while wearing the personal flight suit at a TED Conference in Vancouver. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEVER GAVE UP

The whole journey was about trying and failing, and learning from that.

MR RICHARD BROWNING, on conducting numerous experiments on the personal flight suit until his team was successful.

"The whole journey was about trying and failing, and learning from that," Mr Browning said.

The first reasonably stable, six-second flight with the gear inspired his team to press on.

His start-up, Gravity, formally debuted about a month ago with an early-version suit called Daedalus.

A 55-second video clip of the suit in action has logged more than a million views since being posted on YouTube about three weeks ago.

Mr Browning said he is already getting interest from investors and some in the British military who told him they had given up on the flight feature of an Iron Man suit until seeing his human-propulsion gear.

"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," said Mr Browning.

He dreams of a flight suit that one day will allow its wearer to launch from a beach, soar along the coast and then perhaps hop into a helicopter in the air to continue his journey.

Mr Browning has already seen the early-version flight suit compared to Iron Man armour worn by Marvel Comics character Tony Stark, but stressed that his goal is firmly rooted in the real world.

He also described the project as part of a personal journey, inspired by an engineer father with a love for flying machines, but who died when Mr Browning was just a teenager.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'British inventor lifts off in 'Iron Man' flight suit'. Print Edition | Subscribe