Richard, tell us a bit about yourself and how you have got to where you are with Gravity.
I was an oil trader for 16 years in London, however before that I had a place at Sandhurst during university and I always liked crazy challenges. I was a Royal Marines reserve and got into ultra-marathons and body weight training and contests. I got very into as the gym as it was next door to my office!
That was part of the inspiration which formed part of this idea, (I always had crazy and weird ideas / projects going along) where we could engage and employ the human body a lot more when it comes to flight instead of putting a human in a flight machine. Then the more I thought about it and began to deconstruct the way in which it could happen.
Since you founded Gravity in 2017, how have you grown as a team to where you are now?
The key dates of Gravity are:
March 2016 – 1st engine and the start of experimentation process
November 2016 – 6 second ‘wobbly legged flight’
Winter 2016 – refined the strategy on how to launch as business
April 2017 – Gravity was launched
I am a great believer in just trying stuff, learning from experimentation and re-designing rather than custom building things - then the ‘wobbly legged flight’ 6 seconds kind of proved it could do it. That process was the last thing I felt like filming, but those clips have been like gold now to show the progression people have to go through, but it’s important to see that.
The first non-official demonstration was in the Boost VC carpark in front of Adam Draper. He offered me $650,000 dollars to invest into the business and we shook hands right there in the parking lot whilst I was still in my suit! After that I flew straight to Vancouver to do the first official demonstration in front of Richard Branson, Al Gore and 21 international media groups at the annual Ted Talk conference. That was the most insane two weeks of my life.
What are you currently up to? What is your typical day with Gravity?
A lot of travelling! I’ve done 60 live events in 19 countries in 18 months, 3 times that number of media and TV appearances, then there’s roughly 10 times that amount of articles written worldwide.
(I came back from Germany yesterday (seeing engine guys) then I’m off to South Africa at the weekend, then back to L.A. four hours later.) I was adamant that we would be humble in how we generated money, but after TED and the Red Bull video we had lots of media outlets and attention.
International events are great, you can show up in different countries and make it real for people. Instead of just being shown on Youtube or Facebook you can appear on their local news, whether that be Australia, Singapore, India or Dubai. It’s so visual, and the reference being the ‘Iron Man’ Marvel character has helped to sort of bring the magic to people. Suddenly you’re a whole different level of real, and it’s possible because I can pack everything into 2 suitcases.
How do our Armadillo Merino baselayers help you?
I fly with them as the baselayer under my kit, Angelo Grubusic (the performance pilot) wears them too. The comfort of them are so much better, especially under a nomex layer. Also the chances you get to wash the clothing is minimal when you’re travelling so much, but they survive so many uses and don’t smell.
When the weight of the kit is 40-45kg once fuelled up and 140kg a thrust, the merino helps to monitor the body heat and perspiration as well as being fire retardant, so if anything did happen I know I would be safer than in synthetics. You just don’t want things that are going to melt with the engine fire.
There’s been loads, showing on the BBC in front of 3million viewers, meeting Tom Cruise on TV… but I have to say the original TED 2017 annual event in Vancouver was amazing, just because it was the first official reveal.
Plan for the future? Are you working on future innovations?
We are working with several different militaries around world, looking into capabilities of moving soldiers around. The challenge is with the military and special forces, the decision making is slow, and we’re all about the advancement so we’re focusing a lot on the entertainment side as that creates revenue which goes back into the company.
Have you got a particular hero/inspirational figure?
No one particular that inspired me to start but people like Richard Branson and Elon Musk – great people I delight in think are kindred spirits and are not afraid to go out and try things and almost fail a lot in the pursuit of doing things. They are sort of example I see ourselves creeping in the direction of.
Below is a recent TED talk Richard gave and sums up the journey so far and where he wants to go next.
All photos: Richard Browning