Everyone joins the military for different reasons, but for many of us, a big part of it was the drive and desire to do something that mattered on a larger stage than the local drama we were a part of back home. We saw serving in the military as an opportunity to be the type of hero we grew up reading about, whether in books about real heroes in wars past or in comics about fictional heroes facing imaginary enemies with stakes that, to our growing minds, seemed just as high.
For the most part, though, we arrive at our first duty stations to find that we likely wouldn’t be fighting lava monsters with our NCO swords, and despite the prevalence of some drugs in elite war-fighting groups, the super soldier program that gave us Captain America probably isn’t going to swoop in and fix your slumping fitness scores. No, for most of us lowly American war-fighters, we’re stuck with nothing but traditional ordnance and the ridiculous need to use an aircraft to fly.
How’s a guy supposed to join the Avengers with that kind of loadout?
Fortunately, the things we once thought only possible in science fiction continue to make their way into reality, such as exoskeletons designed to increase a wearer’s strength and endurance, advanced optics designed to guide a bullet mid-flight to its intended target, and now, a jet suit that allows the wearer to fly like another of Marvel’s Avengers: Iron Man.
Richard Browning, a British inventor and a reserve Royal Marine, likely grew up wishing to be a superhero just like many of us did, but where we eventually relinquished that dream in favor of pursuing more grounded professional avenues, he allowed that passion to drive him to build something many of us have never seen before: a self-contained suit that lets the wearer fly like a superhero.
“I have aeronautics in my blood,” Browning said. “My grandfather instructed on WWII Hurricanes, and the other was chairman of Westland Helicopters. My father was an aeronautical engineer and an innovator, too.”
The Daedalus suit can currently sustain 10 minutes of continuous flight, and comes with a heads-up display in the helmet, designed to provide the wearer real-time information about fuel levels and engine performance. The entire system also connects to Wi-Fi, allowing for live transmission of flight data back to a nearby computer for after-action analysis. Browning believes the suit is already capable of speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour and altitudes of a few thousand feet, though he rarely takes it more than a few feet off the ground due to how difficult it can be to handle.
“In a strange way, this project started with a question around just what could you achieve by combining the human body, the human mind, and the best of technology,” Browning explained.
All that automation doesn’t make flying in the Daedalus an easy task, however, and Browning was forced to spend some time in the gym during the 12-month build in order to develop the strength needed to manage the arm and back thrusters.
The latest version of Browning’s suit places four jet engines on his arms and two more low on his back. The combination of the thrust produced by the engines on his back and his ability to re-orient the jets on his arms allows him to hover and zip around just like Iron Man does in the movies, though doing so has taken a good deal of practice and strength training, as the engines on each arm can produce the nearly 300 pounds of thrust he needs to avoid cartwheeling to an early death.
After watching Browning’s workout regimen, which includes biking and running extremely long distances, gymnastics, plyometrics, and isometrics, it’s easy to see the early stages of a real-life Tony Stark beginning to develop. As a result, he’s been asked on more than one occasion if his intent really is to become a real-life superhero using a suit similar to the one he’s currently developing.
“I think this is parallel. I don’t think we’re trying to emulate that [being a superhero]; we’re going on our journey to see what’s possible with mind, body, and machine.”
A likely story.
Watch Browning’s suit in action (and the training he goes through to manage it) in the video below.
Images courtesy of Bret Hartman/TED