As an homage to the Saturday matinee serial heroes of the 1930s-1950s, Dave Stevens created the fictional comic book hero the Rocketeer in 1982. In 1991, Walt Disney Studios developed the character into a studio film. The story is set in Los Angeles, CA in 1938. The main character, a stunt pilot named Cliff Secord, stumbles upon a jet pack that allows him to become a flying man. Cliff faces trials and tribulations, ultimately becoming the hero that saves the day. Jet packs can be found in countless science fiction films, shows, novels, and comics. Actual jet packs have been made in many forms, though because of Earth’s gravity, and the fact that humans are not made to be able to fly, these jet packs have had very limited use. But as autonomous flight technology like drones has progressed, so has the concept of an actionable jet pack.
Towards the end of World War I, the United States Army began looking into unmanned aerial options for combat operations. It wasn’t until 1939 that the US Army began using an 8ft 8in long drone with a 12ft in wingspan weighing 105lbs called the Radioplane OQ-2. In the 1970s, the Israeli Army developed what would go on to become the modern military drones. Today nearly every military force in the world uses drones for a wide range of missions. While worldwide military organizations will in no way be slowing down their use of drones, the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy recently released footage of a trail with a Gravity Industries jet suit.
Gravity Industries was founded in 2017 by Royal Marine reservist and 16 year employee of BP oil, Richard Browning. As the son of an aeronautical engineer, some of Richard’s fondest memories were of tinkering with model aircraft in his father’s workshop. His combined love for aeronautics and the power of the human spirit he experienced as a Marine led him to believe that there was a way for the human body to sustain flight. In 2016 Richard bought a jet engine and spent the next 8 months working on prototypes for a human jet suit. By November of 2016, Richard was able to achieve flight with his jet suit. A few months later, he took Gravity Industries public with a $650,000 investment from Tim and Adam Draper. Today, Richard is still the lead test pilot but has a dedicated team of 30 people pushing the boundaries of flight with him.
Before having to suspend operations because of COVID-19, Gravity Industries had been traveling around the world to demonstrate the possibilities of flight with a jet suit. Gravity has entered into several partnerships with European and American military organizations to show how a jet suit could be applied in military operations. As COVID-19 restrictions have eased, Richard and his team are making sure to get their jet suits back in the air. On May 1, 2021, Gravity released a video of the Royal Navy testing out their jet suit.
The video begins with three fast RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boat) rapidly approaching the HMS Tamar, a Batch 2 River-class offshore patrol vessel. Standing at the head of the third RIB is Richard strapped into a Gravity Industries jet suit. Suddenly, Richard launches into the air, spins around, and soars over the two remaining RIBs. Gaining altitude, he lands on the side deck of the cruising HMS Tamar moments later. He then attaches a ladder to the side of the ship for the marines in the RIB to climb aboard. Then launches off to return to the RIB. The test with, slight variations, is repeated, culminating with Richard and two other jet suit test pilots flying over to and landing on Tamar’s deck.
The test which was classified as an Underway Boarding Exercise is a common exercise carried out by navies. The standard method would involve lowering marines on a ladder to a moving ship below from a helicopter. Richard’s jet suit was able to complete the exercise far more quickly and conveniently than with a helicopter, though there was no information given as to the difference in cost. First Sir Lord Admiral Tony Radakin, head of the Royal Navy, Tweeted that the Navy proudly continues to embrace technology and innovation. He went on to call the Gravity Industries jet suit a “game-changing kit”. Whether or not the Royal Navy will begin turning marines into heroes like the Rocketeer remains to be seen. With how military organizations around the world have embraced drone technology, jet suits could become the next big thing in military technology.