Rocket vs. hover: the bat­tle of the skies

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - Northeast Jobs - WITH CHRIS FEBVRE,

ON De­cem­ber 17, 1903, Orville Wright pi­loted ‘The Flyer’ - the Wright Broth­ers first pow­ered plane - for a dis­tance of 20 feet over the wind-swept beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Since that day, brave and in­trepid in­ven­tors and dare­dev­ils have been in­vent­ing new ways for hu­man­ity to defy the shack­les of grav­ity.

One of the most ex­cit­ing ideas that cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion is the con­cept of a jet pack - a per­sonal rocket propul­sion sys­tem that is small and light enough that it en­ables the wearer to walk around on the ground be­fore tak­ing off.

Marvel’s Iron Man - a long time comic book hero and now a ma­jor mo­tion pic­ture fran­chise star­ring Robert Downey Ju­nior - cap­tures this idea per­fectly (and throws in a cool suit of ar­mour for good mea­sure).

It’s no great sur­prise that Iron Man has been, at least in part, the in­spi­ra­tion for many an in­ven­tor in­tent on de­vel­op­ing a cool gadget or gizmo.

But now we have a real life Iron Man to look to for in­spi­ra­tion.

In the sum­mer of 2016, Richard Brown­ing, of Wilt­shire, Eng­land, strapped a kerosene fu­elled mi­cro gas-tur­bine to each of his arms and legs, pressed the throt­tle trig­ger and en­joyed a few glo­ri­ous mo­ments of flight.

“That was the very first mo­ment we prop­erly proved this would work,” he told WIRED. “That was it. You could get away with it.”

In footage rem­i­nis­cent of the first Iron Man film’s test flight se­quences (painful land­ings in­cluded) you can watch Brown­ing, 38, test out his real life jet-pack.

The cur­rent ver­sion of his jet pack has six en­gines, two on each arm, and two mounted near his lower back.

Ten months into test­ing, and it’s ap­par­ent Brown­ing’s hard work has paid off, with him record­ing flights of up to 12 min­utes.

“We’re a long way away at the mo­ment,” Brown­ing told WIRED. “But one day you’ll lit­er­ally be able to walk around in your gar­den, take off, fly about, then come down low and land.

“The way you have to bal­ance is pretty much the same stance Tony Stark has in the film. When [Stark] first builds this thing in his lab, he goes crash­ing around bash­ing into his cars. The an­i­ma­tors who did all that in CGI ob­vi­ously did some pretty big think­ing. It was kind of a funny mo­ment when we re­alised we should have just watched the film and done that home­work.”

But Brown­ing needs to be care­ful, as he’s not the only per­son to be in­spired by comic book fig­ures in or­der to cre­ate per­sonal fly­ing machines.

French in­ven­tor Franky Zapata has cre­ated the Fly­board® Air, a hov­er­board that bears an eerie (yet awe­some) re­sem­blance to Spi­der-man’s arch neme­sis - ‘The Green Goblin’.

Zapata’s fan­tas­tic fly­ing ma­chine is, at this point in time, con­sid­er­ably more im­pres­sive both in terms of its de­sign and abil­ity.

Able to reach speeds of 150 km/ h and flight dis­tances of 10,000 feet, the Fly­board® Air is quite a sight to be­hold and was re­cently show­cased at the Fly­board World Cup in Florida.

“( The Fly­board® Air) uses a logic sys­tem in­side the board that helps sta­bilise the ma­chine. It’s ex­tremely hard to sta­bilise...for ex­am­ple, we use like the same kind of elec­tron­ics like you use on a drone to sta­bilise. The prob­lem is to cre­ate the al­go­rithms, the right al­go­rithms, to com­bine the in­tel­li­gence in the board and in your brain.”

So with two in­ven­tors rac­ing to cre­ate per­sonal fly­ing machines, each in­spired by su­per­heroes and su­pervil­lains re­spec­tively, there’s only two ques­tions on my mind.

Will they bat­tle for to­tal mas­tery of the skies in an epic show­down?

And can some­one please make that hap­pen?

SU­PER­HEROES: Franky Zapata (left) and Richard Brown­ing (right) equipped with their high-tech per­sonal fly­ing gear - the ‘Fly­board® Air’ and the ‘Daedalus’.

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