China's 'iron man' captures marvel of flying with DIY jetpack
Liftoff, hover, glide... After more than 40 trial flights, 34-year-old Liu Dongsheng, dubbed China's "iron man" among netizens, has defied gravity with his self-made jet suit, stepping out into the sky inspired by his favorite Marvel hero.
The gear, with a full fuel payload, can fly three to five minutes at a maximum altitude of 200 meters and cover five to 10 kilometers, making moves in any direction, as well as turns and braking. Yet for safety concerns, Liu did not go higher than three meters in his tests.
With the dream of flying since childhood, Liu used to make good use of his spare time dedicating his studies to mechanics and returned to his hometown in Hekou County, southwest China's Yunnan Province, to set up a business instead of teaching Chinese as a foreign language after college graduation.
Liu took a fancy to model making when he was a third grader and made a rubber-band model plane himself.
"I often took apart my toys and reassembled them when I was a child," he recalled. "Toy cars and planes, even the family tape recorder, you name it."
Before designing his jetpack, Liu was a robotic combat fan and built a team with his several friends in 2016 to make their own combat robots. They created more than 30 battlebots of various weight classes and sizes in just over a year's time and won first place at the FMB Championship held in Shanghai, a competition for combat robots.
In 2018, Liu's flying dream was reignited as he came across an online video of British inventor Richard Browning experimenting with his DIY jet-powered flying suit.
Liu then wrapped himself up in researching how such kind of gear is made and how it works. He called up a team to develop the jet suit half a year later, yet the first steps are always difficult.
"Engine tests and the design of the flight control system were the most challenging parts," Liu said. Not professionally trained, he had to ask friends for their remote assistance on the design of the flight control unit.
Though after more than one year of designing, testing and tinkering, Liu still remembered his failure in the first trial flight in April 2019.
"That was par for the course. It's not an easy task after all," he said comforting and encouraging himself. Liu and his team solved the key technical problems one by one in the following trials before the heavy jetpack finally took the 74-kg man off the ground.
To get better control of the suit, Liu started to build up his upper body strength and body balance and shed over 10 kg in months. He is able to skillfully operate the gear now, although once a crash left him with six stitches in his chin.
Liu has spent some 700,000 yuan (US$106,750) on making the jet suit and purchasing relevant accessories and aviation diesel.
"Fortunately, my family is quite supportive of me in fulfilling my dream," he said.
Liu's team has filed a national invention patent application for the suit and is working on a new model with better safety performance, longer flight endurance and a lightweight design.
"We wish that more people will have the chance to fully enjoy the pleasure of flying," Liu said.