WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
This is a great example of how advances in technology are helping increase the energy density of fuels, the performance of materials, and helping people take to the skies in new ways to save lives.
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If you’ve ever wanted to zip around in a real-life jetpack, your opportunity awaits. If you’ve got exorbitant amounts of cash, of course. Gravity, a “human flight” startup based in the UK this week demonstrated its latest jet suit at this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.
Gravity founder Richard Browning hovered several feet over a lawn as attendees looked on, floating back and forth between crowds to give everyone a look at his invention in action. Browning’s movements were similar to those of a scuba diver: slow, graceful, and calculated. But at the end, he zoomed across the grass to demonstrate the jet suit’s dexterity at higher speeds.
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Considered the world’s first patented jet suit, Gravity’s technology packs 1,000 horsepower and allows the user to fly anywhere from 10 to several hundred feet off the ground. It’s technically capable of reaching a 12,000-foot altitude, but Gravity keeps its flights a little tamer for obvious safety reasons.
It uses five gas turbine jet engines, which run on jet fuel, diesel, or kerosene which help the user obtain speeds up to 80 miles per hour, although the 75-pound suit probably isn’t the comfiest thing to wear on a hot day. Or at all for that matter.
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Once the “backpack” part of the jet suit goes on the user inserts their arms into a pair of apparatuses each containing two turbines, with the fifth turbine being in the central pack. It’s by moving these apparatuses that the user can manipulate their position and glide through the air.
The jet suits themselves cost around $400,000 but Gravity offers individual flight experiences for $3,500 and personalised flight training programs for $8,500. Gravity says it can take time for new users’ vestibular systems to adjust to the unique sensation of flying in the suit. Once they’ve overcome any motion sickness or imbalance, new users can focus on honing their movements.
But Gravity’s jet suits don’t exist just for the sake of novelty. The company has lent its technology to the Royal Navy, who used it to hop from battleship to boat in the middle of the ocean. Gravity’s also partnering with a British Air Ambulance service to allow medics to reach emergencies quicker and stabilise patients, for example in mountainous areas, before conventional vehicles arrive.