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It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s A… Man In A Jetpack?

If you happen to be flying into LA, keep an eye out the window and keep your camera ready.

From time to time, airline pilots are witness to strange sights in the sky. More often than not, these oddities are related to passengers but occasionally there are sightings of truly unexplained aerial phenomena. That was the case over the weekend when airline pilots flying into LAX spotted a man in a jetpack.

Multiple reports say that an American Airlines crew flying into Los Angeles reported a “guy in a jetpack” as they made their final approach. The sighting occurred 10 miles from the airport at about 3,000 feet and was reported to air traffic controllers. Fox 11‘s report includes ATC audio of the event, which was transcribed by The Drive:

American Flight 1997: “Tower, American 1997, we just passed a guy in a jetpack.”

Tower: “American 1997, OK, thank you. Were they off to your left or right side?”

American Flight 1997: “Off the left side, maybe 300 yards or so, about our altitude.”

The sighting was confirmed by a Skywest crew, who said, “We just saw the guy passing by us in the jetpack.”

The tower then made a traffic advisory to a JetBlue flight, saying, “JetBlue 23, use caution, a person in a jetpack reported 300 yards south of the LA final at about 3,000 feet, 10-mile final.”

“Only in LA,” an unidentified pilot commented.

The airspace around LAX is one of the most congested areas in the country. Bounded by the San Gabriel Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, the LA basin is heavily trafficked by both commercial airline flights and private aircraft. Prevailing winds from the ocean mean that airplanes typically fly over the city of Los Angeles on final at they approach LAX.

LAX is surrounded by heavily restricted Class B airspace designed to separate arrivals and departures from other traffic in the area. The airspace resembles an upside-down wedding cake with multiple layers that are broad higher altitudes and go lower as they get closer to the airport. Class B airspace requires special equipment to operate within 30 nautical miles of LAX as well as an ATC clearance to enter the Class B itself. If the jetpack was within 300 yards of an arriving airliner, its pilot was probably in violation of federal aviation regulations.

Jetpacks invoke images of James Bond in 1965’s “Thunderball” or 1991’s “The Rocketeer,” so it is perhaps fitting that a jetpack sighting would be in Hollywood’s backyard. More recently, two jetpacks appeared in an online ad for Emirates Airlines. The LAX sighting could be a craft similar to the Jetwing used by Jetman Dubai in the video. With a top speed of more than 250 mph and a 31-mile range, the Jetwing is a prime suspect for the sighting although the JB-9 produced by Jetpack Aviation is also a possibility.

I don’t doubt that the pilots saw what they say they saw. A person in a jetpack would be difficult to confuse with a balloon or something similar. Given the fact that everyone has a cellphone and no one turns them off, hopefully a photo of the bogey will emerge, although if the pilots took one, they are unlikely to fess up due to FAA rules about using portable electronic devices.

Fox 11 reports that the FAA turned the investigation over to the LAPD, which might be able to locate the jetpack with helicopter patrols or traditional police work. If there are more sightings, the FAA may take a stronger interest.

The FAA takes incursions into Class B airspace very seriously. As a flight instructor, I once had a student on a solo cross-country flight who violated Miami’s Class B airspace. That resulted in a phone call from air traffic control at home on my day off. In recent times, drone operators have been the cause of many airspace violations and at least one mid-air collision.

The jetpack culprit can be narrowed down by several factors. The most obvious is that very few people have access to a jetpack. The probable Class B violation also points to someone who is not a professional pilot. Most pilots would not risk their hard-earned licenses on such a stunt. A social media influencer or attention-seeker might not be so restrained, however.

If you happen to be flying into LA, keep an eye out the window and keep your camera ready.

If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.

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