“Call me Ace and smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
At last, the real thing is here. The jet pack, rocket pack, rocket belt, or jet suit, whatever you want to call it. The freedom to soar unencumbered above the trees with the wind in your face.
Finally, a man can actually fly like a bird. Up, up and away.
Yes, the jet pack or rocket pack so beloved by James Bond and science fictions films “The Rocketeer” is now completely real and surprisingly easy to use.
So why is this Jet Suit from Gravity quite so special?
The short answer is that is has been designed by Richard Browning, the CEO of Gravity, to be simple to use. The genius touch is placing two jets on each arm so that manoeuvring is not managed by a complicated steering system.
The two jets on your arms are the guidance system, so no complicated electronics. You instinctively point your arms up, down and to the side to fly up, down, sideways, backwards and forwards. It’s one of those things that once you see it, you realise it was obvious all along. That’s genius.
You can spin like a ballet dancer, or soar straight up like Superman.
Iron Man had it right in the comics. Your arms do all the fine motor control, whilst a single jet on your back carries the main weight. No jets in the boots yet, but that might be next.
So I went to test the Gravity jet pack on a sunny Friday morning at Cass Sculpture Park at Goodwood, where Gravity had set up a demonstration and teaching booth.
Richard Browning was there to greet me as he was spending the morning teaching a paramedic how to fly. Great North Air Ambulance, who normally use helicopters to reach people in need, have just invested in these suits. They not only use a lot less fuel than a helicopter, but you can reach someone with urgent medical supplies much faster and in otherwise inaccessible spots. Ten minutes is life or death when it comes to a heart attack or serious trauma.
There is no doubt about it, there is something of Tony Stark about Richard Browning. A former oil trader and ex-Royal Marine reserve, he is keen to break new boundaries in engineering and he also looks the part.
His love of flying comes from his father, an aeronautical engineer, with whom he used to fly model aeroplanes and his grandfather who ran Westmoreland Helicopters. Interestingly enough the jets used in the Gravity Jet Suit are the same employed in high-end model aeroplanes.
So now it was my time to fly. One of his colleagues explained the basics in five minutes and then I was strapped into a jacket bearing one large jet on my back and two jets on each arm. The weight was considerably less than I imagined it would be. They provided a frame to rest your arms on, that was not needed in the slightest. The arm jets weigh just 2 kg each. The whole jacket weighs under 27 kg including all jets. You can comfortably walk around with this on.
I then ambled over to the overhead scaffolding and was attached to a safety cable, before the jets were started. The sight and sound of the jets firing up are magnificent. First blue, then orange flames stream out into the wavering, flickery air. There is little or no heat reaching you, just slight warming of the surrounding air as the jets reach their idle thrust.
You do need ear defenders once the jets hit over 100,000 rpm, but the sound is far less than sitting by a track during a Formula One race and adds greatly to the excitement and thrill of flying your own Jet Suit. I mean, you want the soundtrack.
You put each arm into a foot-long steel cylinder fixed between the jets. The right one has an on/off trigger and cut off switch and the left has a rocker switch to regulate power. As you are learning the power is set low and you practice jumping up and down, bringing your arms down to bring more thrust to bear, and raising your arms to gently float back down. You quickly get a sense of where your arms need to be to move forward, back, left or right.
As you get accustomed to the balance, the power is increased and you spend more time hovering about two feet in the air. The cable is there if you lose control or start to spin around like a top.
It is so similar to a bicycle. At first, it seems odd, then once your head understands the movement, you get it and it becomes pretty intuitive. It is far and away easier than both the water jet boots and water jet pack, both of which I’ve done.
Your arms take a lot of the weight so you don’t feel heavy in the harness, which means it’s supremely comfortable and you aren’t singing falsetto for hours afterwards.
The Jet Suit is the promised land of “flying for real”. The control with your arms system is so intuitive that absolutely everyone will be able to fly these with just a little training.
What’s even more exciting is that Browning has plans to create a Race Series. Soon you’ll be seeing Jet Suits everywhere and the competitions promise to be deeply exciting and hotly contested.
It is also fitting that whilst learning to use the Jet Suit I should meet Andy Mawson, Director of Operations for Great North Air Ambulance Service, the first company to start using it professionally.
I could not think of a more perfect beginning for such a brilliant piece of kit. Not just air racing or even some James Bond-style military outfit, but real-life heroes, a medical rescue team.
Thunderbirds Are Go.
Even more extraordinary is that The Great North Air Ambulance was called out 1,640 times in 2019, rescuing hundreds of ill patients, whilst being entirely self-funded.
How incredible is that? They’re also the people that come out in a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
They run three Aérospatiale SA 365 Dauphin 2 helicopters built by Airbus and will now be employing Jet Suits to bring emergency medical supplies to people in need.
I love the fact that real-life heroes will be saving lives with these Jet Suits. James Bond eat your heart out.
I flew in the Mark II, but the Jet Suit Mark III is about to be officially launched. It is a few kilos lighter, has a better range and is faster. More importantly, it is a fully functional unit that can be thrown in the back of a car and hauled around without any damage. It also starts up in ten seconds rather than the previous 45 secs.
The Jet Suit uses A1 jet fuel or even diesel. Jet fuel is cleaner, whereas diesel gives out a dark smoke but is more regularly available anywhere. The range is quoted at 5-10 minutes, but flights are kept to around three minutes for safety. As the jacket, arm bands and controls get lighter this will increase, though it mostly depends on the operator's weight and ambient air density. As the air heats up around the jets, the density drops, so you get less lift.
All five jets produce a combined thrust just over 1050 bhp and the current speed record is 136 kph or 84.5 mph.
There are other jet packs out there, but the sheer simplicity of Browning’s build and genius in using your arms to control flight means this Jet Suit will become extremely popular. This is the breakthrough the jet pack needed.
You can get lessons for around £6000. They are not available for sale yet, though they have sold a couple to wealthy private individuals for around £350,000.
So is this the real thing?
Absolutely, the experience was compelling, a joy to fly and as close to natural flight as we are ever going to get. You control your flight instinctively, without a joystick or complicated software. It’s just you and five jets thrusting into the air. Magnificent.
“Call me Ace and smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
The Jet Suit
• Power; 1050bhp
• Turbines; 5
• RPM; 120,000
• Fuel; Jet A1 or Diesel
• Dry weight; 27kg
• Flight time; 5-10 minutes
• Current speed record; 136.891 kph