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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The jetpack guy is back: Los Angeles sighting draws an inquiry, again

Federal officials who have investigated the sightings said they have not been able to confirm that a person in a jetpack actually flew into controlled air space.

By: New York Times | Los Angeles |
August 1, 2021 12:25:28 pm
An image from video provided by Brandy Fogelman/Sling Pilot Academy shows an object flying at about 3,000 feet near Los Angeles in December. (Brandy Fogelman/Sling Pilot Academy via The New York Times)

Written by: Maria Cramer

A pilot flying a Boeing 747 on Wednesday night looked toward the right-wing of the plane and reported a strange figure zooming over Los Angeles.

“Possible jetpack man in sight,” the pilot said, sounding weary, if not outright annoyed.

It was unclear if the object spotted Wednesday was the same “jetpack man” that American Airlines pilots said they saw last year, flying at 3,000 feet around Los Angeles International Airport, or the reported jetpack was seen six weeks later by crew members on another commercial flight.

But the sighting this week was enough to draw warnings from aviation officials and another inquiry by federal investigators, who have now looked into several reports of someone in a jetpack flying around Los Angeles.

Federal officials who have investigated the sightings said they have not been able to confirm that a person in a jetpack actually flew into controlled air space.

This week, however, air traffic controllers who warned other pilots in the vicinity appeared to believe that the mystery flyer had returned.

“Use caution,” an air traffic controller said. “The jetpack guy is back.”

This time the sighting was made at 5,000 feet, 15 miles east of the airport at about 6.12 pm, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The agency said the airline involved was Kalitta Air, a cargo carrier.

Air traffic controllers and pilots discussing Wednesday’s sighting sounded somewhat exasperated, according to an audio recording of their exchanges posted on LiveATC.net, which shares live and archived recordings of air traffic-control radio transmissions.

“We’re looking for the Iron Man,” a pilot said after air traffic controllers broadcast the sighting.

The FAA and the FBI investigate every potential jetpack sighting report, they said.

“The FBI will work with the FAA as we have in the past to investigate the most recent report,” said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI. “We’ve worked with the FAA on each of the past sightings and thus far, we have not been able to validate any of the reports.”

In a statement, the FAA said that no unusual objects were spotted by radar on Wednesday night.

The incident in August 2020 occurred at about 6.35 pm, when the pilot of American Airlines Flight 1997 from Philadelphia reported, “We just passed a guy in a jetpack.” Another sighting, last October, was reported to have occurred at an altitude of 6,000 feet when a China Airlines crew called it in at about 1.45 pm roughly seven miles northwest of the airport.

But some of the companies that make jetpacks have expressed scepticism that what pilots have seen in the air is a person and not a large drone.

Most jetpacks lack the fuel efficiency to fly for more than a few minutes, which makes it difficult for them to get very high.

The packs are largely used as tourist attractions for thrill-seekers who want to experience a few minutes of flight, typically over open fields or water.

In recent years, the FAA has enacted rules and restrictions around objects flying close to airports, as the number of aerial vehicles, primarily drones, has increased around airports. The FAA requires authorization to fly in controlled airspace.

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