It was an in any other case quiet Sunday night time on the Los Angeles International Airport management tower when an American Airlines pilot radioed in with an unbelievable report.
“Tower, American 1997. We just passed a guy in a jet pack,” the pilot said.
Minutes later came another report, this time from a pilot approaching LAX in a Jet Blue airliner: “We just saw the guy pass us by in the jet pack.”
So began one of the most intriguing aviation mysteries Los Angeles has confronted in years.
Those sightings occurred Aug. 30. The case took another twist Wednesday when a China Airlines pilot approaching LAX reported seeing a jet pack flying at an altitude of 6,000 feet. That’s more than a mile up.
The FBI is on the case, as is a good chunk of L.A.’s aviation community, which has been buzzing about the sightings.
Though jet packs make frequent appearances in popular culture and movies — think Sean Connery’s James Bond and Disney’s “The Rocketeer” — they are actually very rare.
There are only a handful of companies around the world that make jet packs, including a winged device created by former Swiss air force pilot Yves Rossy, which requires him to be hoisted in the air by a helicopter or balloon before he can take off. There is also a type of hoverboard made by French firm Zapata and flown only by its inventor, Franky Zapata.
Locally, Chatsworth-based JetPack Aviation has created five jet packs that are worn like backpacks. But they’re not for sale, and Chief Executive David Mayman said none of his competitors’ products are sold to consumers, either.
It’s possible that Wednesday’s sighting near LAX was indeed a person flying with a jet pack. But the reported altitude makes such a flight seem “highly unlikely,” stated Mike Hirschberg, govt director of the Vertical Flight Society, a nonprofit skilled group.
Mayman stated his firm’s jet packs are technically able to hovering to heights of 15,000 ft. But due to gasoline constraints, they’ll truly attain solely about 1,000 or 1,500 ft off the bottom safely.
“To fly up to 6,000 feet from the ground, to fly around long enough to be seen by China Airlines and then to descend again, you’d be out of fuel,” he stated.
Mayman stated he is aware of it wasn’t any of his firm’s jet packs as a result of he is aware of precisely the place they’re — plus, they’re disabled when not in use, so grabbing a pack out of storage wouldn’t be doable.
Instead, he suggests a extra possible state of affairs, an electrical drone — maybe with a model hooked up.
Thomas Anthony, director of the USC Aviation Safety and Security Program and a former Federal Aviation Administration legal investigator, stated the strongest proof that the LAX sightings is a individual with a jet pack — as opposed to a balloon or drone — got here from the American Airlines pilot, who reported seeing the article at 3,000 ft over Cudahy.
The pilot acknowledged he noticed “a guy in a jet pack” 300 yards to his left and flying at in regards to the aircraft’s altitude.
“That is quite close,” Anthony stated.
He stated federal investigators would instantly have a look at the restricted variety of jet packs that exist in the U.S. and abroad.
“People in that community will know who has bought these packs,” he stated. “If someone is doing this, they are going to have to take off and land somewhere, and there is going to be noise.”
Anthony stated he doubts the wrongdoer is utilizing an airport to take off and that investigators ought to look to out-of-the-way industrial spots for clues. The FBI urged the jet pack was flying in a part of Southeast Los Angeles County close to Cudahy and Vernon that’s dotted with business and manufacturing companies.
The flying vary of jet packs is fairly restricted, Anthony added, so it is unlikely it traveled any nice distance.
After the China Airlines pilot’s report Wednesday, the LAX management tower known as in a legislation enforcement plane to examine.
The plane was flying about seven miles from the place the pilot stated he’d seen the jetpack, in accordance to radio communications.
But when the craft arrived, no indicators of the jet pack remained.
A jet pack may very well be operated as an ultralight — which means it could not be registered and its operator wouldn’t want a pilot’s license if it meets gasoline capability, weight and pace necessities, in accordance to the FAA. Ultralight plane are permitted to fly solely through the day and are barred from flying over densely populated areas or in managed aerospace with out FAA approval.
Anthony and others say it is crucial that the FBI examine the sightings for security.
“This does represent a very significant compromise of the airspace,” he stated.
If a rogue pilot had been flying at 6,000 ft with out a transponder or radio, Anthony stated, that may put her or him in the trail of economic airways maneuvering over Los Angeles.
Airliners are designed to face up to getting hit by small objects. But a massive steel object is one other matter, particularly if it had been sucked into an engine.
“The engines aren’t designed to consume something large and metal, or something with fuel that’s going to burn or explode,” Hirschberg stated. “That could be potentially catastrophic for an airplane. You could potentially have an engine explode and bring down the airliner and potentially hundreds of people could die.”
So is what has been reported close to LAX really a jet pack?
Some specialists say it is doable.
In February, a pilot in Dubai reached an altitude of 5,900 ft flying a Jetman jet pack powered by 4 mini jet engines with carbon-fiber wings. The pack’s builders say it will probably attain speeds of practically 250 mph. After a variety of dip and roll maneuvers, the Dubai pilot descended to the bottom utilizing a parachute.
Others, although, are extra skeptical. Hirschberg stated the equipment seen close to LAX might have been a balloon, significantly as a result of the China Airlines pilot famous that the flying object was shiny.
Or it might have been a drone, he stated. In latest years, some airports have had to halt flights after drone sightings. In 2018, London’s Gatwick Airport closed for greater than a day after repeated drone sightings.
Drones comes in many styles and sizes. In August 2019, an inventor demonstrated a flying man drone at a German distant management present. The drone was made to look human with a flight go well with full of bubble wrap with boots and a light-weight visored helmet hooked up to a battery-powered drone.
In the U.S., leisure customers will not be allowed to fly their drones greater than 400 ft, can not fly over folks or shifting autos and are prohibited from interfering with crewed plane.
L.A. airspace isn’t any stranger to sudden sights. Back in 1982 a man took flight over Long Beach in a garden chair lifted aloft by helium-filled balloons. Pilots reported seeing him too.
As for the jet pack sightings, the FBI has up to now been tight-lipped about its investigation.
But on the late August night time when the mystery started, the air site visitors controller summed up the sentiments of many: “Only in L.A.”
This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.