The war technology got a small race on the side, the quest to have a fully usable flying suit for soldiers. There are two companies that have been hitting the news: the French company Zapata with their Flyboard; and the British company Gravity Industries with their "Iron Man" Jet Propulsion Suit. Both are looking into military applications for their flying contraptions as these promise faster reaction times for soldiers in getting to and from their missions and at the same time allow them to be able to take the advantage of elevation.
Whilst Zapata developed a hoverboard as the platform for aerial flight, Gravity Industries developed the “Iron Man” flying suit is a Jet-engine body controlled suit and you can see the jet engines at the arms of the wearer. Franky Zapata, the founder of the Zapata recently crossed the English Channel with the hoverboard and Gravity Industries set the Guinness Record for Fastest Jet Pack.
Zapata also demonstrated the possible military applications and the French Special Forces are interested in this tech. He stole the show during the Bastille Day Military Parade last July and he flew armed with a rifle. For the Gravity Industry Iron Man flying suit, it’s not straightforward to arm a soldier using it.
Since the Jet engines are on the arms of the suit, the arms are fully occupied with controlling the flight and thus, enable to hold a weapon. Face with this problem, Gravity Industries enlisted the help of engineer and hacker James Bruton to devise a way for the suit to be armed. The solution is not more of Iron Man weaponry, but that of War Machine, which is worn by James Rupert Rhodes in Iron Man which is played by Don Cheadle in the Iron Man 2 and 3 films.
Instead of mounting a real gun on the turret which is attached to the backpack of the suit, Bruton used an airsoft gun perhaps for two reasons: first no firearm licence and second, safety purposes as this is still an experimental design. The gun turrets moves to where the flyer faces, mirroring the helmet. The contraption itself is made of 3D printed parts, with sensors, servos, and a 2-axis gimbal to stabilize the rifle’s movements.
It works with the AEG, though it will take more work if it is used with a real gun as one has to factor in recoil, muzzle climb, ammo reloading, etc. There is no way the wearer of the suit can reload a rifle with a fresh magazine whilst in flight, he has to land to change magazine unless the gun is a belt fed one. Using a belt-fed gun is another problem, ammo weight and where to store the ammo box at the back of the suit that might compromise tank capacity. The benefit of belt fed gun turret for the suit is more time to hover in the air and rain bullets on the hapless enemies below.
It’s still a long way to go before we see warfighters flying to missions without the need of a chopper or a plane for an air drop, just with jet packs, but we are getting there.