Jet suit paramedic takes Lake District test flight

Defying gravity as they hover over water before zipping across mountainous landscapes and landing with pinpoint accuracy, the jet suit paramedic could soon form part of what could become an extraordinary new service being trialled in the Lake District.

If given the green light by ambulance service chiefs, the paramedic powered by lightweight jet-packs would flit across treacherous terrain within minutes to reach stranded causalities.

In an awe-inspiring test flight, the inventor Richard Browning, looking distinctly like Marvel’s Iron Man, put the suit through its paces on Langdale Pike.

Browning could be seen shooting across the grassy knolls at heights of between 3 and 6 metres (10 to 20ft) in search of a party of walkers simulating a casualty scenario. Within minutes the woman and young girl had been located in a search that would normally have taken rescuers more than an hour on foot.

The “groundbreaking exercise” was the culmination of a year-long discussion between the ambulance charity, the Great North air ambulance service (GNAAS) and Gravity Industries.

Andy Mawson, the director of operations and paramedic at GNAAS, identified the Lakes as a possible location for a jet suit paramedic after hearing of Browning’s work and studying the charity’s own call-out data.

He said: “It showed dozens of patients every month within the complex but relatively small geographical footprint of the Lakes.

“We could see the need. What we didn’t know for sure is how this would work in practice. Well, we’ve seen it now and it is, quite honestly, awesome.”

Mawson said the exercise had demonstrated the huge potential of utilising jet suits to deliver critical care services, with an emergency medic wearing a suit able to scale the 3,117ft peak of Helvellyn, England’s third-highest mountain, in just eight minutes.

GNAAS is carrying out a few modifications to Browning’s suit before it is anticipated to be used in real rescue scenarios as early as next summer.

Mawson, said: “From personal experience I know that carrying medical kit up the side of a mountain in the lakes is so difficult … We are not talking about big distances, but we are talking about steep gradients.

“But with a rapid response car and this jet suit we are going to see a sea change in the way we deliver remote medicine.”

In its present form the jet pack can fly for five minutes at a time but can drastically reduce rescue times from 25 minutes on foot to 90 seconds.

Mawson added: “If someone had a cardiac arrest at the top of Helvellyn, and we were able to employ the jet suit I am confident we would have a defibrillatofr on the patient within eight minutes. As things stand now our aircraft would be first on the scene and that could take 20 to 25 minutes.

“Nobody in the world would expect as an air ambulance we could get to someone in a jet suit in a matter of minutes and get them pain relief or in the worst cases save someone’s life.

“We think this technology could enable our team to reach some patients much quicker than ever before. In many cases this would ease the patient’s suffering. In some cases, it would save their lives.”

Browning founded the aeronautical company Gravity Industries in March 2017 to pioneer a “new era in human flight”.

The 41-year-old said the 1050bhp suit, which retails at £340,000 and has a top speed in excess of 80mph, is technically capable of reaching an altitude of 12,000ft, although for safety purposes it is flown lower.

It uses two micro jet engines similar to those used on aircraft on each arm and one on the back allowing for movement to be controlled.

“The way they blow so much air downwards allows you to lift off the ground,” he said.

He added: “All the manoeuvrability comes down to your own human balance and coordination. If you point the jets increasingly down you go up and if you flare them out you go down again.

“It is very safe, you only go to a height where if you fell you would be able to recover, it would not be a terrible injury.”

In the last three years, Browning said they had executed over 100 flight events across 30 countries with emergency response just one of the areas that the company is actively pursuing, alongside launching new commercial training flights.

“We are just scratching the surface in terms of what is possible to achieve with our technology,” he added.

The Guardian

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