Richard Browning, founder of revolutionary tech firm Gravity Industries, was showing off his hi-tech jet suit to awestruck crowds at HMS Sultan, in Gosport.
About 130 children from four Gosport schools watched as the former Royal Marine reservist used his jet pack to blast over three static helicopters on the base’s parade ground – at points bouncing on the propellers of the aircraft.
Among those in the crowd was tiny Bailey Hall. The six-year-old lad was wearing the red and yellow costume of his favourite comic book hero, Iron Man who, much like Richard, uses a jet-powered suit to fly.
The youngster has a heart condition like the fictional superhero’s billionaire alter ego, Tony Stark. He was born with a hole in his heart and has always looked up to Iron Man.
‘I love Iron Man because he has a heart condition like me,’ said Bailey.
‘Watching Richard fly over the helicopters was really cool.
‘I loved it when he was bouncing on the propellers. It was like he was on a diving board. It was really funny.’
Bailey’s dad, Petty Officer (ET) Bruce Hall, wrote to Richard after Bailey saw one of his displays on the news.
PO Hall added his son felt like he had ‘a lot in common’ with Iron Man because he has a ‘scar on his chest’ from his heart operation.
‘When he saw the jet pack on the news he got excited, knocked over his cereal and ran to get his Iron Man mask and sat watching the news again and again until it was time to go to school,’ said PO Hall. ‘For Bailey to meet his hero and see him flying is a dream come true.’
The event was set up as as part of the navy’s efforts to inspire children into science, technology, engineering and maths.
Andrew Gamble, 14, was among the crowd. The Year 10 Brune Park Community School pupil said the day was ‘immense’, and added: ‘This is something that all the people who saw it and heard will never forget.’
Year 9 pupil Tyla-Jade Evans, 13, was thrilled by the show which she described as ‘inspiring’.
She said: ‘It was insane. I was just expecting him to lift off the floor and go back down. I wasn’t expecting him to fly around like that.’
Warrant Officer 2 Midge Ure, who is a Stem ambassador at HMS Sultan and a marine engineering expert, said the day could have a huge impact on children.
He said: ‘This is fantasy stuff for people like me and to see someone actually here, flying about and over helicopters like this, is massive.’
Richard was delighted to show off his tech and hoped his suits would one day be used to create a new high-octane racing event.
He added: ‘It’s really important for us to demonstrate – in a world full of iPads and iPhones – that science and engineering can lead to some pretty cool stuff like this.’