As you may recall from last fall and over the winter, the FAA was experiencing quite a bit of consternation over repeated reports from pilots of what appeared to be a guy wearing a jet pack flying over Los Angeles International Airport thousands of feet in the air and crossing into the paths of commercial airliners. Not only was this a potentially dangerous situation with deadly consequences, it was also quite a mystery. No known jet packs should be able to reach the heights that were being reported and safely make it back to the ground. But now, through a combination of some clever FOIA activity and investigations of “other possibilities,” the mystery may have been solved. And it’s an explanation that I posited here months ago. (The Drive)
Months after an initial report from airline pilots about seeing what appeared to be an individual flying alongside them using a jet pack as they came in to land at Los Angeles International Airport, that incident, and subsequent encounters in southern California, remains as curious and unexplained as ever. Newly obtained documents from the Federal Aviation Administration show officials there were also stumped after the first sighting. At the same time, they were asking similar questions and considering one of the exact same possible explanations that we here at The War Zone have also explored…
Even more interestingly, on Sept. 3, John Blanco, the Aviation Safety Manager at the Los Angeles Flight Standards District Office, responded on the same Email chain with some details about what the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had turned up. The FBI has been leading the investigation into the incident since shortly after the initial report.
“Mike Bumberger, our LEAP [Law Enforcement Assistance Program] Agent shared that the FBI interviewed the American Airlines pilot that made the jetpack sighting,” Blanco wrote. “The pilot said what he saw was exactly like the drone in the Youtube video below.”
The author of the linked report from The Drive is Joseph Trevithick. He first offers well-deserved credit to John Greenewald of The Black Vault (who I’ve interviewed here in the past) for uncovering via FOIA requests a lot of information about discussions at the FAA as they tried to solve this mystery. You can view John’s full assembly of the documents here.
As it turns out, they still don’t have a definitive answer. Nor does the FBI, apparently, though they’ve been investigating for months. But the folks at the FAA did track down a pretty good lead that looks to be the only plausible explanation so far. It’s been generally agreed by subject matter experts, including one of the top jet pack manufacturers in the country, that no jet pack operator could reasonably expect to make it up to 3,000 feet and come back in one piece without a parachute. There just wouldn’t be enough fuel to lift that much weight up to that altitude.
But a drone could do it. And a drone could, in theory, have some sort of mannequin or lightweight dummy in the shape of a human being attached to it, perhaps created from a balloon, right? Well, as it turns out, it’s not just a theory. There are already remote control drone enthusiasts out there who have done that exact thing. Check out this video from RC Media World.
Tyler Rogoway at The Drive had identified this equipment (or someone building a similar model) as the source of the sighting some time ago. I too had speculated that it might be a drone, but I hadn’t seen proof that anyone was actually flying them already. But hey… that drone in the video certainly fits the bill and the FAA documents confirm that a pilot who was shown the video said that it looked just like what he saw.
Even if the mystery is solved, the FBI still needs to track down the specific drone owner who was doing this. It might have seemed like a fun, harmless prank, but that person could have caused a disastrous tragedy by flying in the LAX airspace.