On Sunday evening, while coming into land at Los Angeles International Airport, three pilots saw a sight that seems to be right out of a cartoon.
"Tower, American 1997, we just passed a guy in a jetpack," one pilot told Air Traffic Control, in audio obtained by Fox11. In a response so matter of fact it's actually absurd, the air traffic controller replied, "OK thank you. Were they to your left or right-hand side?" instead of "What in the hell are you talking about, you sound like you're on glue".
The pilot reported that the man in a jetpack was off to the left side of the plane, "maybe 300 yards [274 meters] or so, about our altitude." A second pilot on a separate flight confirmed they too had seen the man in a jetpack, before a third pilot on a Jet Blue flight reported that they saw the person, again at about 900 meters (3,000 feet), just yards from the runway.
Take a few moments to picture three pilots rubbing their eyes in cartoon disbelief before throwing away the offending tube of glue.
So is it possible they really saw a person in a jetpack flying in airspace usually reserved for commercial airplanes? The short answer is yes. Jetpacks have come a long way since the 10 or 20-second flights first achieved in the 1960s, which flew to heights of about 1.2 meters (4 feet). The maneuverability of the packs and skill of the pilots has also vastly improved since the first flight of the Bell Rocket Belt, which ended a few seconds after it began when the safety tether broke and the pilot fell 2.5 meters (8 feet) to the ground, shattering his kneecap.
Back in 2016, the Martin Aircraft Company of New Zealand claimed its jetpack could fly at altitudes of 900 meters (3,000 feet) at speeds of 74 kilometers per hour (46 miles per hour) for between 30 and 45 minutes. Since then, Jetman Dubai has put that to shame with its winged jetpack, which reached heights of 1,800 meters (6,000 feet) in February 2020. In fact, here it is below flying alongside a plane.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have now begun investigations into the incident, though no obvious culprits have been identified. Jetpacks are, you'll be shocked to learn, rare, which narrows the suspects down to multimillion-dollar companies and any supervillains in the vicinity who ordered a suspicious amount of jet fuel to their garage online.