On Sunday evening at around 6:30 p.m., pilots helming an American Airlines flight from Philly reported an unusual sighting to air traffic control during their approach into Los Angeles.
“Tower, American 1997—we just passed a guy in a jetpack,” the pilot said.
At the time, the plane’s altitude was about 3,000 feet and the man was spotted about 300 yards to the plane’s left. For reference, the tallest building in L.A., Wilshire Grand Center, is 1,100 feet tall; a mile is 5,280 feet. After warning the pilot of an incoming JetBlue flight about the potential rocket man, an air traffic controller quipped, “Only in L.A.”
While dudes in jetpacks flying among commercial airplanes might sound far-fetched (a similar story was a perfect fit on the cover of Weekly World News), several companies around the world manufacture powerful (and extremely expensive) jet-powered personal flying devices. One of those companies, JetPack Aviation, is based right over the hill in Van Nuys, but founder David Mayman stressed to both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times that what the pilots spotted someone flying couldn’t have been one of his devices, which aren’t for sale for recreation use and are highly supervised during lessons.
But in terms of altitude, 3,000 feet is apparently totally possible. Mayman claims his device—which he first demonstrated five years ago by flying around the Statue of Liberty—can soar to heights of up to 15,000 feet. And last year, a pilot with the aerial showcase Jetman Dubai reached 6,000 feet during a three-minute flight. (The Martin Jetpack, pictured above, is actually fan powered and only reaches about 800 feet.)
Both the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration are currently investigating the pilots’ reports.
“The FBI is aware of the reports by pilots on Sunday and is working to determine what occurred,” the agency said in a statement to the L.A. Times. Likewise an FAA spokesman said the agency “alerted local law enforcement” and is “looking into these reports.”
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