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Has the LAPD solved the mystery of LAX’s jet pack man?

written by Hannah Dowling | November 4, 2021
The LAPD has just released this photo, taken by officers in a helicopter above Century City in November 2020. (LAPD)

The Los Angeles Police Department has finally revealed one working theory behind the mysterious “man in a jet pack” that has been spotted multiple times by pilots above LAX in the last year.

Following at least three sightings of what appeared to be a man wearing a jet pack zooming along beside a passenger aircraft in LA, the LAPD has said one possible explanation could be the use of a human-sized balloon connected to a dummy body.

The LAPD revealed that helicopter crew captured images of such a balloon flying about Century City last November, not long after the first two sightings of LAX’s jet pack man.

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The first sighting took place in September 2020, when two pilots reported what appeared to be a man in a jet pack flying alongside their aircraft at about 3,000 feet on approach to the major hub airport.

American Airlines flight 1997 from Philadelphia to LA was the first to report the unusual sighting.

“Tower, American 1997, we just passed a guy in a jet pack,” the pilot conveyed to the air traffic controllers, who seemed understandably shocked by the revelation, and asked the pilots for more information.

The pilot said the man was flying with a jet pack at 3,000 feet and only about 300 yards (274 metres) to the left of the Airbus A321.

Moments later, another pilot, this time from SkyWest, reported to air traffic control that he, too, had seen the Iron Man impersonator.

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“We just saw the guy passing by us in the jet pack,” he said, to which a JetBlue pilot responded: “You don’t hear that every day – only in LA.”

Then, just over one month later, our friend in a jet pack was again spotted flying past passenger airlines above LAX, puzzling pilots and investigators.

This time, the jet pack man was spotted by flight crew aboard a China Airlines aircraft and was said to be flying at around 6,000 feet. The sighting occurred around 11 kilometres north-west of LAX.

A third major sighting occurred in July 2021, when a Boeing 747 pilot contacted ATC to report “a possible jet pack man in sight”, about 15 miles east of LAX at 5,000 feet.

Despite these three major sightings, the US Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation have not yet been able to formally identify the person responsible for the sightings and reiterate that their latest update – regarding the balloon-and-dummy theory – is one of multiple possibilities.

“The FBI has worked closely with the FAA to investigate reported jet pack sightings in the Los Angeles area, none of which have been verified,” the FBI said in a statement.

“One working theory is that pilots might have seen balloons.”

According to the photos released by the LAPD, the balloon and dummy contraption appears to resemble Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s 1993 movie A Nightmare Before Christmas. In fact, its similarities to the iconic character make the item hard to miss.

Regardless, it is still unclear whether or not it is the same object – or individual – that was spotted in each instance.

Since the sightings, there have been plenty of debates surrounding whether or not it is possible for a person flying a jet pack to reach such heights for such a period of time, due to current technologies on the market generally lacking such capabilities.

One theory that has been flouted is that perhaps the object being spotted by pilots is rather a dummy attached to a drone, created in the likeness of a man wearing a jet pack.

Others wonder if LAX’s jet pack man has pulled an Iron Man move and taken it upon himself to develop and test such a device.

As previously reported, jet packs do not just exist in the realm of science fiction – they are very much real.

However, due to fuel limitations, most jet packs currently in existence are only capable of flying for minutes at a time, which limits how high these can potentially get.

This isn’t necessarily to say the sightings couldn’t have been a jet pack, but signs point to it being unlikely.

Earlier this year, a Dubai pilot flew nearly 6,000 feet up using a jet pack, however his flight lasted just three minutes.

Elsewhere, a company called JetPack Aviation has invented a jet pack that can reach up to 15,000 feet in altitude, which can be operated for about 10 minutes, although only five devices have been created and these are not available for sale or recreational use.

Earlier, JetPack Aviation founder David Mayman told the media that it is highly unlikely that these pilots spotted a real person and could instead have seen a drone carrying a lightweight mannequin of some kind.

Mayman said that both the FAA and FBI had contacted him in regard to the sightings, hoping to learn more about the possible performance capabilities of jet packs with today’s technology.

However, he reiterated that his model only holds enough fuel to fly for just eight to 10 minutes, making it highly unlikely a person could climb to thousands of feet, loiter enough to be spotted by multiple flight crews, and then land safely.

A pilot in a jet pack of today would have perhaps been able to climb straight up and immediately come down, however this is not consistent with the details of the sightings.

“To fly up to 6,000 feet from the ground, to fly around long enough to be seen by China Airlines and then to descend again, you’d be out of fuel,” he said.

Mayman also said the 200-pound thrust turbojets that power the jet pack are understandably noisy, meaning Iron Man would have attracted a serious amount of attention.

Authorities wondered if perhaps the LAX jet pack flyer enlisted the help of a parachute to return himself to earth after his extended joy flight, however Mayman said the use of a parachute would have made the whole ordeal significantly more visible.

Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, a non-profit professional organisation, agreed that while it is possible that these LAX sightings could have been a person in a jet pack, it is “highly unlikely”.

He agreed that a more reasonable explanation could be a drone fitted with a human-like dummy figure, in order to intentionally present as a jet pack.

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