There were some rules before I even got to test the Gravity Industries jetpack: Don’t wear fabrics in sportswear because they can catch fire, come up with “robust shoes” and make sure your ankles are covered. No wide jewelry. Sign this waiver form. Do not weigh more than 210 kilograms. I was close to failing to meet that last requirement after a year of a pandemic and not too much movement.
But I passed and after a short series of greetings with my elbow, I was soon tied up in a bulky backpack containing the main jet thruster and petrol. Two engineers put two large jets on my wrists, also connected by a gear on my back. It was all hard and now I was a little scared.
They took me to the stage, and the crew, most of whom perform a double duty both as test pilots and as engineers, set up the podium to rest the hand jets, before explaining how to operate the jet pack. While the rear rocket seems to have the task of removing your body from the ground, maneuvering the rockets – and keeping your own hands rigid – is what drives you, stabilizes you and generally prevents you from spiraling out of control in front of a crowd of intrigued bystanders.
As part of BP The laboratory of the future at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a long-running car show held in one of the busiest parts of southern England, Gravity Industries showed viewers its latest jetpack and released occasional journalists and VIPs, including Olympic athletes, influencers and musicians .. in seconds.
Although we have written about Gravity Industries and its founder Richard Browning several times, covering attempts at world records and other experiments. They all required the same miniature jet engines that Browning had been breeding for years. And gasoline.
Standing on stage, with two hand jets leaning against the frame in front of me, the team ends by teaching the basics of movement: Use the right trigger to adjust the thrust, evenly distributed over the three jets; raise your arms to return, bring them behind you to go forward; lift only one to rotate in that direction. Someone tapped me on the back and I realized I was now attached to a safety wire that ran across the very top of the stage.
And that was it. The engineer put on a pair of earmuffs — I had a large heavy motor on each wrist — and retreated to a safe distance. Then the engines started and I immediately understood why I have ear protectors.
These engines can roar. Together they have enough power to lift a weight of up to 210 pounds, but the Gravity Industries team gently increased the engine power, meaning I could literally find my feet, jumping from side to side, feeling the effects of different angles on the hand thrusters.
Keeping my arms upright not only kept these roaring engines away, but allowed me to stay stiff and adjust my body shape. Finally, my brief love with gymnastic rings paid off. As the power boosted, Browning (who apparently commented on my efforts to a crowd of spectators – I couldn’t hear him) marked me and turned off the engines. I didn’t get off the ground at the same time for more than a few seconds. He explained to me that I could lead where I was going by looking (and turning my head) in that direction, like the way you control the direction of a snowboard. I followed his hand as he walked from one side of the stage to the other, and the jetsuit did what I wanted.
Jitsuit Gravity Industries is designed so that intuition starts very quickly. We naturally raise our hands when we fall. Feel like you’re falling here, and the same gesture will keep you upright. At the same time, intuition can also confuse you. With a powerful motor tied to the back, directed to the floor, you should not bounce your legs back. Or beat them up when you panic. The stream will not flambé your feet, but you will feel a wave of heat that doesn’t really help you calm down.
After the thrashing, I would run out of fuel and it was time to refuel. Once replenished, and with a little more confidence, I stepped onto the stage. The engineers increased the power a little more and I tried to keep my nerves. The engines rumbled louder than ever and I finally managed to get off the stage. I turned, nodded, moved backwards, forwards, and landed when I landed. Did I feel like I was six feet off the ground? Yes. Was it just a leg and a change? Yes.
Earlier this month, on Independence Day, Mark Zuckerberg posted a video of himself on an electric surfboard – if not in a jet-rack – holding a United States flag as he was pushed across a body of water. A very, very strange clip raises the question with a lot of these bloody transport concepts: are they simply a game of the rich and famous?
Gravity Industries, as well as American rivals like Jetpack Aviation offer “experience days” for groups that include training with a jetsuit and a tour of the company’s research facilities. It costs several thousand dollars. You can also sign up for dedicated flight training, which is even more money. Exploiting early adopters offers the funding needed to develop these projects, and fuel is expensive – so are Yetsuits. But apart from day trips for the rich and showing suits to Tom Cruise, what are they for?
An immediate example might be military use. The military is often the first to adopt new technologies, readily funding many innovations that have crashed into civilian life. Browning mentions how helicopters once demolished military strategy when they were first introduced, with the possibility of dropping fully equipped soldiers into a crowded jungle by changing the assumptions of modern warfare.
Jetpacks are, for now, noisy, fuel hungry and vulnerable. But the view is that they could offer a completely different paradigm in warfare – one that is not yet imagined (or perhaps still affordable).
The British Royal Marines have already tested the Gravity Industries suit as an alternative to jumping from a helicopter. In the test, one soldier launched from a boat, landed on a larger vessel and lowered the ladder to the rest of his squadron, reducing the need for a larger helicopter.
However, it is not all about warfare. Recently experiment with the British emergency service Great North Air (GNAAS), Browning flew to the simulated victim in a mountainous area in just 90 seconds, far faster than the 25 minutes it takes medical air ambulances to arrive on foot. Reducing time could literally save lives if a solution is found for the expensive curve and the learning curve. Clothing is also limited by how far it can fly before it needs more fuel. It can usually take about 5-10 minutes, depending on the weight of the pilot and other factors. Like drone delivery, for now jetsuits can only offer the last mile – and it has to be less than a mile.
Before the pandemic locked up trips almost everywhere, Gravity Industries was also just weeks away from holding its first a racing event in Bermuda. It would involve two runners flying around a circle mixed with an obstacle course built above the water, competing for the fastest time. Sounds like something out of your mind The man who runs.
I watched most of the clips of the Gravity Industries YouTube channel, as well as Browning’s other appearances on TV shows. But when I see someone skillfully going through a jetsuit in his footsteps, then I get the attraction of someone flying around it it is not yes.
He ends up addressing an audience in Goodwood and puts a microphone behind a few speakers. He steps to the middle of the stage, without a safety line, and explodes at about three feet. He slides from the stage to the grass between her and the crowd. The thrust strikes harder, going even higher and circling the perimeter of the stage. Blades of grass are flying around, the engines are humming so loud that it’s hard for the audience to choose between Instagramming this spectacle or plugging their ears with their fingers. He made another loop, then carefully landed, the center stage.
Everyone around applauds, passersby ask Gravity Industries staff if there’s a chance they’ll try out the jetsuit at the show. They were politely told that the slots were fully reserved and pushed towards the test sessions offered online.
At the event, Gravity Industries also revealed what could be the future of something that is already a near-future concept: a prototype electric jetpack. It was a surprise, considering that Future Lab is sponsored by BP, a multinational oil and gas company, or maybe that is exactly the reason why the non-fossil fuel project had to be shown.
This larger model, with rougher edges, prototypes is more than petrol models. After the discovery, Richard Browning tells me that it really needed to prove that “we can get someone off the field.”
The challenges of the electric jet bag make the petrol versions easy. The electrical proof of the Gravity Industries concept is twice as heavy as the fuel iteration, but it can only take 10 to 15 seconds to “take away one of the lightest team members,” Browning notes.