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UK ambulance services are testing a rescue jet suit

Steve Dent
·Associate Editor
·2-min read

The “Iron Man” jet suit we first saw back in 2017 might be less crazy than we first thought. Inventor Richard Browning and his company Gravity Industries have demonstrated that it may be a viable option to quickly get medical help to victims in remote areas. Working with the UK’s Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), Browning flew to a simulated casualty on a remote mountainous site in just 90 seconds, a fraction of the time it would take to walk there.

The sooner a paramedic can get to a victim, the sooner they can stabilize them and call for a helicopter or other support. “We think this technology could enable our team to reach some patients much quicker than ever before,” said GNAAS director of operations Andy Mawson. “In many cases this would ease the patient’s suffering. In some cases, it would save their lives.”

The jet pack uses microjets powered by jet fuel or diesel that are mounted on the pilot’s arms and back, with a heads-up display showing key data like thrust and fuel remaining. Browning has said that the risk of fire is minimal because the fuel isn’t particularly explosive or flammable, and he stays relatively close to the ground in the event of mechanical failure.

Though the test was a success and looked incredibly cool, it may be awhile before we see jet pack paramedics. Gravity’s model has a flight time of just 5-10 minutes, requires highly specialized training and demands enough fitness to support your own weight with your arms. It would also be limited to terrain that’s not too steep, because the pilot needs to hug the ground in order to survive a fall. The suits aren’t cheap either, as Browning sold one recently for £340,000 ($438,000).

Still, that’s a fraction the price of a helicopter, including pilots, fuel and maintenance, and Gravity is working to make the suits cheaper and easier to use. “We could see the need. What we didn’t know for sure is how this would work in practice,” said Mawson. “Well, we’ve seen it now and it is, quite honestly, awesome.”