Richard Browning becomes Iron Man with jet-powered suit

Of all the "fictional" technologies that enable personal flight, Iron Man's suit is the hardest, and most dangerous, to pull off. Flying with a jetpack is no longer science fiction, and even a hoverboard has made substantial progress. But a jet-powered suit? Hardly. That never discouraged British inventor Richard Browning from trying. And his dedication, and perhaps insanity, has finally paid off. He has become the real-world equivalent of Iron Man by donning a suit that, in practice, puts mini airplane engines on his arms and legs.

Therein lies the dangers inherent in a real-world Iron Man suit. With a jetpack or hoverboard, the engines aren't as close to your limbs. With a flying suit, there's always the danger of blowing off a body part. You also don't have the safety net of a parachute, as every gram counts. Browning himself had to lose 3 kgs in order to be able to hover over the ground.

In the early years of his experiments, Browning's "flights" were clumsy and short-lived, last only a few seconds and looking more like big hops. In the latest iteration, however, he can last up to 12 minutes a few feet above ground. Controlling the flight path is as you would expect if you watched any of the recent Iron Man films. Funnily enough, Browning's own experiments sort of verified that Tony Stark's awkward poses and control during his early tests of his own suit were, in fact, closer to reality and fiction.

Considering the risks involved, the years of research, experimentation, and out of the box thinking, even being able to hover off the ground for a few feet and a few minutes, without losing a limb, is already a historic success. Of course, it can hardly be considered "done" at this point. At least, not if the suit is to eventually become a more refined, not to mention commercial product.

As if almost mirroring fiction, Browning, whose real-world job is an oil trader for BP (British Petroleum), is forming a business, named Project Gravity, around this suit. He has also gotten the attention of some big companies, who want to get involved in this ambitious dream. In addition to refining the suit, Browning is also working on a holographic heads-up display with hardware supplied by the likes of Sony.