On Sunday evening, an American Airlines pilot flying into Los Angeles International Airport reported seeing a man in a jetpack flying thousands of feet above the airway.
Fox 11 Los Angeles obtained radio transmissions between the pilot and the control tower claiming to see a "guy in a jetpack" no less than 300 yards outside of his window, when he was ten miles out from the runway at an altitude of 3,000 feet. Another pilot for SkyWest Airlines confirmed the sighting to the control tower, reporting "We just saw the guy passing by us in the jetpack."
Fox reached out to American Airlines which said to reach out to the FAA, which said they sent the report to the LAPD, which said it never received the report. There’s no reason to doubt the pilots, however, as pilots have vision requirements and undergo situational awareness training meant to minimize accidents caused by human error in congested airspaces.
About a decade ago, when jetpacks seemed to exclusively be propulsion devices that could expel enough fluid for a half minute “flight”, the FAA seemed as if it did not consider them worth regulating. Things have changed, however. In the past decade, a plethora of advances and designs have allowed propulsion designs, like those of California-based company JetPack Aviation, to sustain flight for as long as eight to ten minutes. According to the company, these jetpacks can be flown as “ultralight" aircraft under FAA guidelines.
There are other designs, such as personal wingsuits, that provide longer sustained flights with high altitudes. . For example, a personal wingsuit design showcased by Jetman Dubai was demonstrated flying at an altitude of 6,000 feet, and achieving speeds as high as 248 miles per hour.
It’s unclear who is responsible for the wild jetpack flight near LAX, or why, but it’s worth noting that JetPack Aviation is nearby. “We conduct all our engine and flight testing as well as pilot training at a purpose built facility near Moorpark, CA about one hours drive north west of LAX,” the company’s website states. The reported altitude of 3,000 feet appears to be higher than their vehicles are usually flown, but within their advertised capabilities.
JetPack Aviation’s JB-10 model has only been flown up to 120 feet and only over water, according to Jetpack Aviation training materials, but its "theoretical maximum altitude" is well over 18,000 feet and its engines would continue operating at up to 25,000 feet. In a 2018 interview, CEO David Mayman said he'd personally taken the newer JB-11 jetpacks to "about 5,000 feet above sea level,” but only 200 feet over the water. The company advertises the JB-11’s maximum altitude as being 15,000 feet.
Jetpack Aviation did not immediately return Motherboard’s request for comment.