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A jet pack at LAX? Maybe. Jet packs are very real

By Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

It sounds like something out of a movie: An American Airlines pilot calls the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport to warn that his plane just flew past someone in midair - a person wearing a jet pack.

But the pilot really did give that warning Sunday night, and it wasn't laughed off. The FBI is investigating.

After all, jet packs are not confined to the realm of science fiction. There are a handful of companies around the world that make devices that power a single person up into the air.

Former Swiss Air Force pilot Yves Rossy has created a type of winged jet pack, which typically requires him to be hoisted into the sky by a helicopter or balloon; he can take off from there. Another company, Zapata, has made something like a flying skateboard, which gives off a Marty McFly vibe.

JetPack Aviation Corp., based in Van Nuys, Calif., says it's the only one to have developed a jet pack that can be worn like a backpack. The technology is real: Chief Executive David Mayman demonstrated it five years ago by flying around the Statue of Liberty, and his company has created five of them.

So it's not out of the question that someone could have been soaring above the airport last weekend, giving pilots a scare.

 

Mayman was quick to say that if a jet pack was involved, it wasn't one of his. JetPack Aviation keeps its five packs locked down, he said, and they're not for sale. The company does offer flying lessons at $4,950 a pop, but he said students are attached to a wire and can't stray too far.

None of the company's competitors sell their products to consumers either, Mayman said.

The weekend incident "got us all wondering whether there's been someone working in skunkworks on this," he said, using a term for a secret project. Or maybe, he mused, the airline pilot saw some kind of electric-powered drone with a mannequin attached.

The fact remains: It's very difficult to get access to a jet pack. If you accomplish that, though, it's not hard to get permission to fly it.

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