Good news: Human jetpacks are finally on the market. Bad news: they cost over R5million
IN RICHARD BROWNING'S world, struggle is a prerequisite for success. The Brit may be dashing and charismatic, but his is not the sort of suave that comes without work. Now 39 years old, he’s a former Royal Marine reservist and ultra-marathon runner. So when he decided to fulfill his childhood dream of flying by building himself a jetpack, he didn’t expect it to be easy. And that was just fine.
“We went down this road for the pure joy of taking on a challenge that was largely thought to be impossible,” Browning says.
From his first teetering flight, which lasted only five seconds, to his world record-setting 32 mph flight, Browning realized why jetpack-based flight has never made it from the world of science fiction to that of reality. Those lessons usually came in the form of crashes.
The early versions of the suit had engines on his legs as well as his arms, which posed an unexpected challenge. "The problems included the engines being only three or four inches off the ground in terms of the exhaust thrust," he says. It turns out that shooting air out of an engine at 1,000 mph can break a sidewalk. “You could see that a smooth concrete surface would often become pitted."
Browning now sells versions of his suit and plans to start a racing league next year. But the challenges are hardly finished. Now, he’s working to get the cost down from $440,000, and to find enough thrill-seekers to fill the league—and start to learn from their own mistakes.