Gravity tests head-tracking, shoulder-mounted firearms on its jet suit
In a video posted to TikTok, Gravity Industries founder Richard Browning has shown off what appears to be live-fire aerial testing of a shoulder-mounted, head-tracking weapons system for the Iron Man-style jet suit he's been flying since 2017.
The video shows a pilot, possibly Browning himself, hovering several feet off the ground and firing several rounds from an automatic pistol into water, balancing the suit against the recoil as the gun follows his head movements with a slight lag.
Gravity has made no bones about it: it wants to work with military customers. Indeed, back in 2021 the company released video of ship boarding tests conducted with the UK Royal Marines, in which a jet suit pilot lifted off from a rigid inflatable boat, then raced off at considerable speed to board a larger vessel.
As I wrote at the time, "I certainly wouldn't be rushing to put my hand up for this gig in a live-fire enemy ship boarding. These mini jet turbines verily cleave the sky in twain with their thunderous turbine noise; they're the opposite of stealth, your chances of landing undetected are zero.
"And thus, there you'd be standing, alone and loudly announced, on the deck of an enemy ship with 5-10 kg (11-22 lb) of highly flammable jet fuel strapped to your back. The bad guys would want to put a bullet in your backpack just to see if you'd go flying about like an untied balloon. You wouldn't be able to defend yourself until you'd wrestled your hands out of your jet gauntlets, hung them up somewhere and got your gun out. And even then, you're gonna find it hard to run, roll, hide or squat with that giant, explosive turtleshell on your back."
A weapons system, though, might make a military jet suit pilot somewhat less of a dangling duck in a combat situation, and since the Gravity suit requires both arms (and considerable strength) to fly at all times, a shoulder-mounted gun turret seems like a decent way to get it done.
YouTuber James Bruton, in the video above, built an ingenious prototype for such a system back in 2019, creating his own two-axis shoulder turret for a full-sized Airsoft rifle. It was capable of tracking the pilot's head position via an inertial measurement unit (IMU), then comparing it against IMU data from the turret itself to determine how the pilot was moving his head without getting confused by the overall motion of the suit as it flies.
Eventually, Bruton and the Gravity team decided the yaw axis was probably making things unnecessarily complex, while also potentially giving the pilot a chance to dong himself on the head with a rifle barrel. So they ditched it and went to a single axis system; the turret aims the gun up and down, and the pilot rotates the entire suit in the air to aim it from side to side, aided by a laser dot. A safety switch turns the system off and points the gun skyward, and it appears it's fired using a finger trigger.
Browning appeared delighted with the system during early tests, but it seems fairly clear that the gun was too big and heavy to be practical. The new system looks much more compact and lightweight, bringing a smaller automatic pistol well forward of the pilot's face. This puts the recoil load straight back into the backpack rather than applying torque through a vertical lever, which seems like a good idea.
The new system looks a lot less like a garage-built prototype – no disrespect to Bruton's work at all – and seems well integrated into the fuel-tank backpack of the jet suit. Check it out:
Very neat work – although there are still issues. From the video, it looks like the pilot is struggling to control the gun's tendency to yaw to the right when it fires. You'd need another gun firing simultaneously on the other shoulder to get around that one.
It'll also require extraordinary skill to aim this thing accurately in a dynamic situation, particularly given the gymnastics you're already doing with your upper body to fly the jet suit, and the fact that you need to yaw the entire suit to aim sideways.
There's no apparent way to reload the gun at this stage, either – although it's not hard to imagine this kind of system eventually being built out with a continuous feed of ammunition.
But the jet suit's chief combat liabilities remain the same: it's insanely loud, so every enemy in the zip code will be looking at you, and it places you in the air, where there's nowhere to hide, with ample potential energy stored between your altitude and your fuel tank to make you a potentially very entertaining and easy target to shoot at. Perhaps this can be solved with armor plating, but that'll be heavy and even more restrictive for the pilot.
Still, we look forward to finding out where this crazy machine is going, and while we're unsure about its practicality, it's the sort of thing that speaks to the wide-eyed 10-year-old kid in all of us. I still find it hard to believe we're living in the age of jet suits, jetpacks and jetboards.
Source: Richard Browning (TikTok)