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Is there really flying around LAX in a jet pack?

It was a quiet Saturday night at the Los Angeles International Airport control tower on August 29 when an American Airlines pilot radioed with an incredible report.

“Tower, American 1997. We just passed a man in a jet pack,” the pilot said.

Minutes later, another pilot approaching LAX on a Jet Blue airliner confirmed his vision: “We just saw the man pass us by in the jet pack.”

So began one of the most intriguing flight mysteries Los Angeles has faced in years.

And the case took another round Wednesday when a China Airlines pilot approaching LAX reported seeing a jet pack flying 6,000 feet above ground.

The FBI is in the case, like a great chunk of the LA aviation community, which is whispering about what is seen.

Although jet packs are often shown in movies and other popular cultures, they are actually very rare.

There are only a handful of companies around the world that make jet packs, including a winged device created by former Swiss air force pilot Yves Rossy, who demands that he be flown in the air by a helicopter or wolf before he escapes. There is also a type of hoverboard made by the French company Zapata and just flown by its inventor Franky Zapata.

Locally, Chatsworth-based JetPack Aviation has created five jet packs to wear like backpacks. But they are not for sale, and Chief Executive David Mayman said none of his competitors̵

7; products were sold to consumers, either.

It’s possible that Wednesday’s sight near LAX was actually someone flying with a jet pack. But the altitude at which human flight is reported seems “extremely unlikely,” said Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, a nonprofit professional organization.

Mayman said his company’s jet packs are capable of reaching heights of 15,000 feet. But because of fuel barriers, they can only reach about 1,000 or 1,500 feet on the ground safely.

“To fly up to 6,000 feet off the ground, to fly around long enough for China Airlines to see and then get off again, you will lose fuel,” he said.

Mayman said he knew it wasn’t any of his company’s jet packs because he knew exactly where they were – plus, they were disabled when not in use, so getting a pack out of storage was not possible.

Instead, he thinks the sight could be an electric drone – perhaps the one with a mannequin attached.

Thomas Anthony, director of the USC Aviation Safety and Security Program and a former Federal Aviation Administration criminal investigator, said the strongest evidence that LAX sees is a person with a jet pack – as opposed to a balloon or drone – is originated from the American Airlines pilot, who reported seeing the object at 3,000 feet above Cudahy.

The pilot said he saw “a man in a jet pack” 300 yards to his left and flying at the height of the plane.

“That is near,” Anthony said.

He said federal investigators will immediately look into the limited number of jet packs available in the US and abroad.

“People in that community will know who bought these packs,” he said. “If someone does this, they will have to take a path and land somewhere, and there will be noise.”

Anthony said he suspected the culprit was using an airport to take off and said investigators should look to outside industrial areas for clues. The FBI suggested the jet pack was flying in a section of Southeast Los Angeles County near Cudahy and Vernon with dotted commercial and manufacturing businesses.

The flying range of jet packs is relatively limited, Anthony added, so it is unlikely to have traveled any distance.

After a China Airlines pilot report Wednesday, the LAX control tower called a law enforcement aircraft to investigate.

The aircraft was flying about seven miles from where the pilot said he saw the jetpack, according to radio communications.

But when the ship arrived, there were no signs of a jet pack left.

A jet pack can operate as an ultralight – meaning it cannot be registered and its operator will not require a pilot’s license if it meets fuel capacity, weight and speed requirements, according to the FAA. Ultralight aircraft are allowed to fly only during the day and are prohibited from flying in densely populated areas or in controlled aerospace without FAA approval.

Anthony and others said the FBI needed to investigate what was seen for security reasons.

“This represents a very significant compromise of airspace,” he said.

If a rogue pilot flies 6,000 feet without a transponder or radio, Anthony says he will be put in the path of commercial airline maneuvers in Los Angeles.

Airliners are designed to withstand the impact of small objects. But if a metal object – especially one with fuel in it, such as a jet pack – is absorbed into an aircraft engine, it can lead to an explosion.

“Machines are not designed to consume something large and metal, or something with fuel that will burn or explode,” Hirschberg said. “That could be a potential catastrophe for a plane. You could have a machine explode and overthrow the airliner and potentially hundreds of people could die.”

So what is reported near LAX is actually a jet pack?

Some experts say it is possible.

Jetman pilot Vince Reffet launched himself 1,800 meters in Dubai, Friday, February 14th.

In February, a pilot in Dubai reached a height of 5,900 feet flying in a Jetman jet pack powered by four mini-jet engines with carbon-fiber wings. Pack builders say it can reach speeds of about 250 mph. After a number of maneuvers in the sinking and moving, the Dubai pilot landed on the ground using a parachute.

Others, however, are more skeptical. Hirschberg said the device seen near LAX could be a balloon, especially since the China Airlines pilot said the flying object was shiny.

Or it could be a drone, he said. In recent years, some airports have had to stop flights after drone sightings. In 2018, London Gatwick Airport has been closed for more than a day after repeated sighting of the drone.

In the US, recreational users are not allowed to fly their drones higher than 400 feet, cannot fly in people or moving vehicles and are prohibited from interfering with aircraft drones.

So far the FBI has been strict in its investigation.

But on the last night of August when the mystery began, the air traffic controller summed up the sentiment of many: “Only in LA”

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