A pilot flying a Boeing 747 over Los Angeles looked out of the cockpit one evening in late July and saw something so strange that he alerted the flight control.
“Possible jetpack man in sight,” the pilot said.
That report triggered a warning.
“Be careful,” said an air traffic controller. “The Jetpack guy is back.”
The July 28 incident was the third time in less than a year that a pilot flying near Los Angeles International Airport reported that someone was lightning around in a jetpack. All three incidents prompted the FBI and Federal Aviation Administration to launch investigations. The aviation community – including jetpack manufacturers – was full of theories about how anyone could get their fingers in a relatively rare object, take off with one and fly thousands of feet in the air – all the while escaping everyone’s notice except the pilots who reported them.
More than 14 months after the first observation, federal investigators have no definitive answer. But the FBI this week shot a new theory, one that does not involve jetpacks at all. It turns out that “jetpack man” may have been a balloon all along – possibly one shaped like the ragged Jack Skellington, the protagonist of the 1993 Tim Burton film “The Nightmare Before Christmas”.
The first report of a jetpack pilot came on August 30, 2020 from an American Airlines pilot who was about to land at LAX. A commercial pilot made the other about six weeks later on October 14 and said they had seen someone more than a mile above the ground.
From the start, several aviation experts said they were skeptical. There are not many jetpacks and it is difficult to get your fingers in one, they said. David Mayman, CEO of Los Angeles-based company JetPack Aviation, has five available for flight lessons at $ 4,950 per flight. session. He told the Los Angeles Times that his company disables them when not in use. The company’s JB-11 JetPack – which is powered by six modified turbojet engines that run on petroleum or diesel – weighs 115 pounds, can top 120 mph and run for 10 minutes.
Even if a junk user got their fingers in one, it would be difficult, given the technological limitations of the jetpack, to reach the 3,000 to 6,000 foot heights reported by the pilots without running out of fuel, Mayman said. The company’s jetpacks have a technical ceiling of 15,000 feet, but can actually only reach between 1,000 and 1,500 feet due to fuel constraints.
“It’s very, very unlikely with the existing technology,” Mayman told the Associated Press after the first jetpack report. “I’m open to being surprised. But I do not think there is anyone working with technology that could fly from ground level to 3,000 feet and then come down again.”
Experts speculated that the pilots had actually seen drones or balloons. Federal investigators have not found other witnesses who saw anyone fly a jetpack.
“None of these observations have been confirmed so far,” the FAA said in a statement to KNBC.
But the FBI and FAA received video from the Los Angeles Police Department conducting their investigation. During a routine patrol flight, an LAPD helicopter crew shot footage of a life-size human-shaped balloon hovering over the Hollywood Hills in early November 2020, about two weeks after the second reported sighting of “jetpack man,” according to KNBC. who downloaded the video. The balloon appears to be designed to resemble Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”.
The police department gave the footage to federal investigators months ago, and it has become part of a new hypothesis about what the pilots saw.
“One working theory is that pilots may have seen balloons,” the FBI and FAA said in statements responding to the LAPD footage.
It makes a lot more sense to Ross Aimer, a retired pilot and aviation consultant.
“This now explains that it could possibly be what they saw,” Aimer told KNBC.
Aimer said he believes the pilots made reports in good faith, but was simply mistaken. They would only have gotten a glimpse of the object, given how fast they traveled.
“There is a very good possibility that in the past they were also balloons, and pilots perceived them as jetpacks,” he added. “This is a better explanation for me and for the aviation community.”
Not everyone was so unbelieving. The American Airlines pilot who made the first report was quickly backed by another pilot on a JetBlue Airways flight in the area.
“We just saw the guy walk past us in the jetpack,” the pilot reported.
Air traffic controller response: “Only in LA”
And maybe not even there.