In the latest demonstration of his jet suit technology, inventor and ex-marine Richard Browning crossed the Solent in just 75 seconds, marking the longest distance yet covered by the ‘Rocketman’. 40-year old Browning traversed the 0.8 miles between Lymington’s Hurst Castle on the mainland and Fort Albert on the Isle of Wight at 60 mph, despite headwinds of 25 mph coming at him from the opposite direction.
In a nod to an historical failed attempt by eccentric German inventor to send the Isle of Wight’s post to it in a rocket in 1934, Mr Browning used his trip to deliver a letter. Fortunately, having touched down safely on Fort Albert, the 2019 post arrived in one piece. Unlike engineer Gerhard Zucker’s attempt to convince the General Post Office to use his rocket delivery technology back in the thirties. His ‘mail rocket’ crashed into the Pennington Marshes in Hampshire – some 5 miles away in the wrong direction. A previous attempt to send mail to Harris in the Outer Hebrides saw the rocket carrying the postal cargo explode, taking 1200 pieces of correspondence with it.
The General Post Office understandably declined to take their interest in 1930s rocket technology as a possible new mode of mail transport further. But technology has since moved on. Mr Browning is still testing and developing his jet suit, which is powered by five engines. He has made a total of 6 flights across the Solent this summer to test out new innovations to the suit.
Some tests have gone better than others. One test run of a new ‘experimental wing’ for the suit saw it catch in the wind, resulting in his arm flapping ‘a bit like a bin bag out of a car window’. Others experiments were more successful, including a fabric wing comparable to those used in the flight suits used by extreme sports enthusiasts to fly around the faces of mountains. That gave a “wonderful aerodynamic lift”, and proved more efficient than the jet suit’s flight being completely dependent on the downward thrust provided by the engines.
Mr Browning’s next feat will be to attempt to beat his previous record for speed in a ‘body controlled jet-powered suit’, which was set in 2017 and stands at 32 mph. The inventor is confident the evolution of the technology in his latest suits, which he claims have seen him reach 74 mph without adjudicators present, mean he will more than double the 2017 record.
But Mr Browning is not just a madcap inventor. His aeronautical innovation company, Gravity Industries, hopes to successfully commercialise the jet suits in future. The current models are already on sale in Selfridges in London and are a snip at just £340,000. And the ex-commando says the UK’s special forces are interested in his jet suits with talks over a partnership with the British Army having taken place.
Mr Browning’s jet suit has competition though when it comes to futuristic flying machines. Frenchman Franky Zapata has invented a jet-powered hoverboard which he last month flew over the Channel from Sangette near Calais to St Margaret’s Bay, to the north east of Dover. The journey took just 22 minutes with speeds reaching as high as 105 mph. It was a second attempt after the first saw Zapata crash into the sea after around 10 minutes and approximately half way across the Channel.