In Dubai, a Race for ‘Iron Men’ Wearing Jet Suits

    29 February 2024

    The pilots started their jet engines on a runway in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai on Wednesday. But they were not preparing to fly an aircraft. They themselves would fly — in the first-ever "jet suit race."

    The seven pilots with jet engines on their backs raced along the tall buildings of Dubai like a scene from the movie Iron Man.

    "The closest analogy would be that dream of flying... and then going wherever your mind is taking you," said Richard Browning. He is the founder and chief test pilot for Gravity Industries, the company that held the race with Dubai.

    Jet suit pilots race in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Dubai on Wednesday hosted what it called its first-ever jet suit race. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
    Jet suit pilots race in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Dubai on Wednesday hosted what it called its first-ever jet suit race. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

    Browning added that the movie created the scene using computer technology, but his company did it "for real."

    The pilots wore 1,500-horsepower jet suits for the race. Those engines have more mechanical power than most sports cars and use the same fuel as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 passenger jets.

    Then came what pilot Issa Kalfon called "the moment of truth." The engines roared and pilots jumped and leaned forward. And they took off like a helicopter.

    Organizers said they took off from the runway next to the water to enable higher speeds. The jet suit currently can reach speeds of 128 kilometers an hour, Gravity Industries said. It is also safer for the pilots to fly short distances above water.

    Kalfon, who won the race, said he was nervous before his flight. "Everything's hot, it's running, the engines are screaming at you," Kalfon said. But he said the jet suit was safe and easy to handle.

    There was one crash during Wednesday's race.

    Emirati pilot Ahmed al-Shehhi smashed into the water, going feet first but immediately came to the surface to give a thumbs-up to rescuers. An announcer described him as having just 12 days of training before the race.

    "It's pretty amazing to see that they can do this in Dubai, and they have these guys flying over the water," said Jennifer Ross, an American who lives in Dubai. "It's kind of like astronauts flying around in space."

    With its beaches, bars and buildings, Dubai has long been a city known for its love of aviation. The city is home to the world's busiest airport for international travel. It also has been developing the idea of flying taxis for several years.

    There are risks to jet suit travel, however.

    In 2020, Vincent Reffet died in a crash during training for a different flying project. He was famous for once flying alongside a two-level Emirates A380 jet.

    I'm Dorothy Gundy.

    Jon Gambrell reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    scene –n. a part of a movie or play

    analogy –n. a comparison between two things that share some quality that is meaningful

    horsepower –n. a traditional measure of mechanical power that is used in the United States and Britain

    roar –v. to make a load noise similar to the sound a lion or tiger makes

    lean –v. to position oneself at an angle rather than straight up and down

    handle –v. to control, drive or manage the direction of something

    thumbs-up –n. a sign given by people to show they are safe or in good condition which involves raising the thump of the hand upward

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