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Is someone really flying around LAX in a jet pack? Trying to solve an aviation mystery

By Richard Winton and Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES - It was an otherwise quiet Sunday night at the Los Angeles International Airport control tower when an American Airlines pilot radioed in with an unbelievable report.

"Tower, American 1997. We just passed a guy in a jet pack," the pilot said.

Minutes later came another report, this time from a pilot approaching LAX in a Jet Blue airliner: "We just saw the guy pass us by in the jet pack."

So began one of the most intriguing aviation mysteries Los Angeles has confronted in years.

Those sightings occurred Aug. 30. The case took another twist Wednesday when a China Airlines pilot approaching LAX reported seeing a jet pack flying at an altitude of 6,000 feet. That's more than a mile up.

The FBI is on the case, as is a good chunk of L.A.'s aviation community, which has been buzzing about the sightings.

 

Although jet packs make frequent appearances in popular culture and movies - think Sean Connery's James Bond and Disney's "The Rocketeer" - 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, which requires him to be hoisted in the air by a helicopter or balloon before he can take off. There is also a type of hoverboard made by French company Zapata and flown only by its inventor, Franky Zapata.

Locally, Chatsworth-based JetPack Aviation has created five jet packs that are worn like backpacks. But they're not for sale, and Chief Executive David Mayman said none of his competitors' products are sold to consumers, either.

It's possible that Wednesday's sighting near LAX was indeed a person flying with a jet pack. But the reported altitude makes such a flight seem "highly unlikely," said Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, a nonprofit professional organization.

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