When Richard Browning founded Gravity Industries in 2017, he explained that the company’s goal was to pioneer a “new era in human flight.” His jet suit was finally seen flying across Langdale Pikes in an extraordinary test that promises to revolutionize critical care services.
Andy Mawson, director of operations and paramedic for the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), had heard about Browning’s work and wondered if emergency medics could use the jet suit in the relatively small footprint of the Lakes. When Browning used the jet suit to fly at heights between 10 and 20 ft in search of a party of walkers simulating a casualty scenario, he managed to find the woman and young girl within five minutes — something that would have taken rescuers more than an hour if they had done so on foot.
The exercise was the culmination of a discussion between the ambulance charity Great North air ambulance service and Gravity industries that took nearly a year. The team could see the need but weren’t sure if the equipment would actually work in practice. After showing it can scale the 3,117 ft peak of Helvellyn in just eight minutes, GNAAS has declared it expects to use the jet suits in real rescue scenarios as early as next summer.
Browning founded Gravity Industries in March 2017. Since then, the company has grown into a multi-million dollar organization with influence worldwide and carried over a hundred flights across 20 countries and presented four TED talks and two Wired events. Gravity also works with sponsors to provide specific STEM support materials and educational outreach events.
In 2018, the jet suit was declared one of Time’s best inventions of the year. Gravity Industries has a growing portfolio of cutting-edge technology across search and rescue, tactical mobility, and entertainment. Their Flight Team Training hangar is 90 minutes outside London and offers safe, controlled experiences to pilot the jet suit. Among those who have tried the technology are US Navy test pilots and skydivers.
The Gravity Industries jet suit retails at about £340,000 ($430,000) and can reach speeds of 80 mph. The suit has a power of 1050 bhp and is technically capable of reaching 12,000 ft altitudes, although it’s normally flown much lower for safety purposes. In order to keep the technology safe, Gravity also limits the majority of flying to over grass or water.
With two micro jet engines on each arm and one on the back, their construction is not dissimilar to those found on aircraft. The triangle created by the position of the engines allows for movement to be easily controlled. However, it relies on a pilot’s ability to balance and requires some practice to get familiarized.
The MK 2 suit uses fuel (Jet A1 or Diesel, both non-volatile and far less dangerous than gasoline) and has a dry weight of 60 pounds. The flight time is currently 5 to 10 minutes, although the company is actively working on improving this number and delivering a quieter, cheaper electric version.
The Future of Jet Suits
Carrying medical kits up the side of a mountain is a daring task that can require extreme physical effort and take valuable time. The challenge is not so much the distance, but rather the steep gradients that prevent paramedics from easily delivering medicine. The jet suit could drastically reduce rescue times, turning a 25-minute climb into a 90-second flight. Mawson stated: “If someone had a cardiac arrest at the top of Helvellyn, the jet suit could bring a defibrillator within eight minutes.”
The technology could enable rescue teams to ease patients suffering and, in some cases, save their lives. This is particularly important at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to push the boundaries of innovation. Browning’s technology, however, can be applied for more areas than emergency response, and it’s a matter of time before we see new proposed uses for the suit.
For the next year, Gravity will be focusing mostly on entertainment. The company is actively pursuing new commercial training flights, as well as a race series that would be delivered directly in front of an audience. With 1050 bhp jet suits piloted by people from around the world, this race would push the boundaries of human and technological capabilities and create a new frontier of live-action entertainment.
In time, jet suit flying could become a recognized global attraction in some of the world’s most iconic locations. We’re just scratching the surface in terms of what we could achieve with this incredible technology.
About the Author
Yisela Alvarez Trentini is an Anthropologist + User Experience / Human-Computer Interaction Designer with an interest in emerging technologies, social robotics, and VR/AR.