At around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday evening, pilots directing an American Airlines flight from Philly reported unusual sightings to air traffic control during their approach to Los Angeles.
"Tower, American 1997 – we just passed a man in a jetpack," said the pilot.
At that point, the aircraft was about 3,000 feet altitude and the man was spotted about 300 meters to the left of the aircraft. For reference, the tallest building in LA, the Wilshire Grand Center, is 1,100 feet tall; One mile is 5,280 feet. After an air traffic controller warned the pilot of an incoming JetBlue flight about the potential rocket man, he quipped, "Only in LA."
While guys in jetpacks flying between commercial airliners may sound far-fetched (a similar story fit the cover of Weekly World News perfectly), several companies around the world make high-performance (and extremely expensive) jet-powered personal flying machines. One of those companies, JetPack Aviation, is based just over the hill in Van Nuys, but founder David Mayman pointed out to both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times that what the pilots spotted someone flying wasn't one of his devices that are not for sale for recreational purposes and that are closely monitored during class.
But in terms of altitude, apparently 3,000 feet is entirely possible. Mayman claims his device, which he first demonstrated by flying around the Statue of Liberty five years ago, could soar to an altitude of 15,000 feet. And last year, a pilot at Jetman Dubai air show reached 6,000 feet in 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 pilots' reports on Sunday and is working to determine what happened," the agency said in a statement to the L.A. Times. Likewise, an FAA spokesman said the agency had "alerted local law enforcement agencies" and "is reviewing these reports."
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