Hey, whatever happened to that "jetpack guy" over LAX?

It’s been a month since something really bizarre happened in the skies over Los Angeles International Airport, and for once I’m not talking about a UFO. Well, at least we don’t think it was. Some pilots coming in for a landing spotted what they reported as looking like a guy in a jetpack cruising very close to their landing glide path several thousand feet in the air. But nobody was able to locate him, at least initially. So in that sense, I guess it technically was a “UFO” since it appeared to be an object, it was flying, and they couldn’t definitely nail down what they had seen.

The FAA was alerted immediately, of course. And pretty soon the FBI was dragged into it. If the figure they spotted was what it appeared to be, this was a very serious violation of flight regulations that could have placed the lives of hundreds of people in jeopardy. But after several days of speculation and public calls from the FBI for more information from the public, the story seemed to go cold. Now, a month later, we’re getting something of an update from Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick at The War Zone. They’ve put in some FOIA requests and dug up what little the government has to go on thus far.

Most of the basic details are the same as were reported at the time. The report also says that a nearby Los Angeles Police Department “air support” asset, almost certainly a helicopter, was notified of the situation. Another notification about the incident was made through the FAA-managed Domestic Events Network (DEN), though it’s not clear who else may have received that alert. The DEN can be used to provide information to other U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Security Administration (TSA), regarding potential threats and hazards in domestic U.S. airspace.

The air traffic control audio recording that The War Zone also received via FOIA includes the portions that were reported at the time, as well. The full clip that FAA released, which is approximately 15 minutes and 25 seconds long, contains additional exchanges about the incident, including another pilot chiming in after the one who said “Only in L.A.” to add “Or Louisiana.” Sadly, that person does not elaborate on that comment and any potential previous issues with individuals with jetpacks in that state.

The War Zone has the audio of the control tower traffic with several pilots that you can listen to here. You’ll note that not everyone in the area saw a guy in a jetpack. Another pilot reports seeing what he describes as “a cluster of party balloons” at around 5,600 feet above the airport. Could that have been what the original pilots saw and they just mistook it for a jetpack? It seems unlikely and it’s just as probable that these were two unrelated sightings.

The problem with this story is that the “jetpack guy,” if that’s what this was, was flying several thousand feet in the air. There are a couple of companies out there that make jetpacks capable of reaching that height, but they are few and far between. And you need a lot of training to pull something like that off. If this really was just some rich crackpot pulling off a very expensive stunt, you’d think that the FBI would have been able to trace him down by now, right? (I’m once again assuming it was a guy because I’m pretty sure most women are a lot smarter than that.)

If you’re up more than 3,000 feet in the air wearing a jetpack that probably doesn’t leave much room for a parachute and you run into mechanical issues, you’re in a pretty untenable position. Once gravity takes over, she’s a cruel mistress. But assuming this wasn’t just a misidentification of some balloons (which seems unlikely given the amount of energy the FAA and the FBI are putting into it) what else could it be? And where did this stunt pilot go after the sighting without anyone spotting him?

This one is an intriguing mystery, but it seems like the trail is growing cold at this point. We may never know, but there are a lot of pilots and air traffic control people out there who would definitely like to find out. With all of that said, here’s your exit question. Do you still really want flying cars? If one guy with a jetpack can cause this much trouble, just think what some drunk in a George Jetson jalopy could pull off.

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David Strom 1:20 PM | July 18, 2024