LOS ANGELES – Authorities investigating a series of possible jetpack observations over Los Angeles believe they may have identified an explanation for the mysterious reports – one that requires no fuel, no engines and no high-flying technology.
“One working theory is that pilots may have seen balloons,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aviation Administration said in statements after NBC Los Angeles obtained police videos and images that appear to show a man-made inflatable toy floating over Beverly Hills.
The theory gained support after photos taken of a Los Angeles Police Department’s helicopter crew last year showed a life-size balloon – believed to be a life-size Jack Skellington, of Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas” – thousands of feet in the air.
The pictures showed what could have been a single balloon from a Halloween decoration that broke loose and drifted into the sky.
There have been three observations over Los Angeles International Airport – one on August 30, 2020, another almost two months later, on October 14, and a third earlier this year, on July 28.
In all three cases, commercial airline pilots said they saw what appeared to be jetpacks flying at altitudes of 3,000 feet; 6,000 feet; and 5,000 feet.
Officials said Monday that after more than a year of investigation, federal agents had not been able to find additional witnesses who saw or recorded video of any of the flying objects reported by the pilots, either in flight or descending to the earth.
“The FAA has worked closely with the FBI to investigate all reported jetpack sightings,” the FAA said. “None of these observations have been confirmed so far.”
Retired airline pilot and aviation consultant Ross Aimer said Monday that the balloon images appear to match what the jet pilots reported.
“This now explains that it could possibly be what they saw,” Aimer said.
He said he thought pilots had made honest reports to air traffic controllers, but at the high relative speed of a jetliner on approach, flight crews may have only caught a glimpse of the objects.
“There is a very good possibility that in the past they were also balloons, and pilots perceived them as jetpacks,” Aimer said. “This is a better explanation for me and for the aviation community.”
Both the FAA and the FBI have said the jetpack investigation remains an open investigation.
David Mayman, CEO of Los Angeles-based Jetpack Aviation, said last year that jetpacks were not a plausible explanation. The machines produced by his company – none of which had been sold – hold only a dozen gallons of fuel, or worth about 10 minutes, and could not have reached the heights described by the pilots.
“Climbing and descending – it takes some time to do that,” he said, adding, “You just wanted to run out of fuel.”
Maymans theory? A battery-powered drone, loaded with an inflatable mannequin and flown far away.
“Any teenager could put this together with parts from China,” he said. “You might be talking about a skilled high school kid or a college kid – they could really easily build something like that.”