HE’S a double world record holder, ultramarathon runner and former Royal Marine Reservist – and he’s mates with Tom Cruise.
But British daredevil inventor Richard Browning has taken his ambitions to new heights by creating a super-fast gravity defying jet suit which could save lives.
The 41-year-old, dubbed the ‘real life Iron Man’, has turned human flight into a reality.
His £340,000 suit, which has more horsepower than a Bugatti Veyron supercar, allows him to fly at speeds of up to 85mph and can reach an altitude of 12,000ft.
And it seems the sky’s the limit.
The technology could soon be worn by paramedics, who are being trained as we speak, allowing them to fly to rescue injured hikers stuck on the top of Britain’s mountains.
It means emergency crews could reach the summit of peaks such as Bowfell in the Lake District in just 90 seconds, rather than 25 minutes on foot – which could be the difference between life and death.
Richard, founder and chief test pilot at Gravity Industries, said: “The jet suit allows you to fly and move in a completely free, three dimensional manner, almost like a superhero.
“We are just scratching the surface in terms of what is possible to achieve with our technology.”
The Great North Air Ambulance Service, which responds to more than 1,500 callouts a year, described the potentially life-saving invention as “awesome”.
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And it may not be too long before top movie makers realise the potential of Richard’s invention and we see James Bond or Mission Impossible agent Ethan Hunt taking flight.
But Richard didn’t set out to revolutionise human transport or be a Hollywood hero.
Instead his “crazy idea” four years ago “simply got a bit out of hand”.
For 16 years Richard worked as an oil trader in London but packed it in to pursue his dream of being airborne.
He said: “I had a perfectly good career in Canary Wharf and honestly just embarked on this for fun.
“We didn’t believe we were going to create some sort of mainstream form of transport. And we definitely didn’t set out to build an Iron Man suit.
“It was more about adding just the right amount of horsepower to the human mind and body, without aid or computers.
“It sounds ridiculous and yet it ended up working way better than we had imagined.
“There was genuinely no business rationale behind it, just the joy and challenge of it.”
The suit is powered by jet fuel or road diesel which, through its five engines, provides enough thrust to lift a human off the ground.
It is then controlled by altering the direction of your arms – known as vectoring.
It might sound complicated, but but Richard compares his futuristic-looking invention to a classic bicycle.
He said: “When you’re wearing the jet suit you’re not sitting in a seat with a control system and computer – you are sort of on a bicycle in the sky.
“Bicycles don’t do much at all by themselves but add a human in to do the work and look at the results. Pretty amazing.
“It is the most raw, authentic, minimalist form of human flight available – or ever.”
He says the feeling of flying through the air is almost impossible to describe.
The closest analogy he can think of is “the dream of flying we often have as kids but also as adults”.
The dad-of-two added: “It is just like that, believe it or not. You’re completely free.
“You’re running along and you step off the ground and keep going, flying and floating, and you can go wherever you like.
“It really does look like CGI in a film.”
Richard was inspired by his time spent pushing his body to its limit as a Royal Marines Reserve and ultramarathon runner.
But aviation is in his blood. His grandfather was Sir Basil Blackwell who ran Westland Helicopters, while his father was a maverick inventor, designer and aeronautical engineer.
It meant Richard spent much of his childhood dreaming up ideas and building things in his dad's workshop.
He said: “My father very much inspires what I do today. My passion for aviation, physics, design and creating whatever it is – I definitely inherited that.
“And my physical exploits taught me a lot about human capability. If you connect that back up with my family heritage, then it led me down the road of thinking, well could you not use the human mind and body to tackle the challenge of flying in an entirely different way?”
When Richard was just 15 his father took his own life, leaving behind “a lot of unfulfilled ambition”.
He said: “I do feel I went on this journey and in a way, by embarking on this journey and taking on a slightly audacious challenge and trying to get that over the line, I’m reliving some of his aspiration.”
Fuelled by his father’s enterprise, Richard’s list of achievements rocketed.
He has trained huge number of clients to fly unaided and has flown in 31 countries.
He smashed his own Guinness World Record for the fastest speed in a jet suit when he whizzed alongside Brighton Pier at 85.06mph in November 2019 – well surpassing his previous 32.02mph.
JET SUIT SPECS
Power – 1,050 brake horsepower
Turbines – 5
RPM – 120,000
Fuel – Jet A1 or diesel
Dry weight – 27kg
Flight time – 5-10 minutes
Top speed – 85.06mph
Altitude limit – 12,000ft
His top speed caught the attention of aspiring aviators across the globe.
Survival guru Bear Grylls and actor turned stuntman Tom Cruise are both in Richard’s contacts list, along with a host of other “LA Hollywood folk”.
He is even in talks to feature the jet suit in a future Mission Impossible film.
And anyone can get their hands on one – although it will cost you.
To date, he has sold two jet suits for £340,000 each, both looked after by Richard himself.
He said: “It’s a bit like a Formula 1 car. No-one really buys F1 cars, it’s not really what they’re meant for.
“But a couple of our clients were keen to own their own suits so we look after them rather than let them disappear off around the world.”
Despite looking like something out of Transformers, Richard claims it is remarkably simple to learn to fly in the jet suit.
Novice flyers are clipped into a tether so they can “practice in their own time knowing they can’t fall over”.
He compared it to watching a child learn to ride a bike; some are soaring within a few minutes, others take several months.
We are just scratching the surface in terms of what is possible to achieve with our technology.
Richard, who lives with his wife and two sons in Sailsbury, Wiltshire, has even got his teenage son Oliver learning to fly and reckons he will “have him flying freely in no time ”.
The entrepreneur said swapping his smart suit for a jet suit was a “real challenge” – but luckily his family were very supportive.
He added: “It is quite a change of scenery from commuting into London every day and running a trading book.
“It’s a challenge setting up any new start-up. But my family had faith in me that the idea was worth pursuing and they can see the results now.”
And although Richard doesn’t see his jet suits replacing Uber any time soon, he does see a bright future for aviation technology.
He said: “Someone soon is going to crack the autonomous electric drone type thing.
“I’m sure we will be able to click a button to say we want to go from A to B and it will just hover over a designated spot and autonomously take you to where you want to go.
“We will get there at some point but there is a lot of regulation to overcome first. The technology is there, but it’s the legislation.
“It just takes one to drop into a school full of children and then the whole thing will get shut down. It is very hard to make something completely failsafe.”
For now, he plans to focus on his international race series, which sees pilots go head-to-head to fly across lakes, rivers and seafronts, as well as his life-saving search and rescue missions and military collaborations.
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