Among all of the various chaos that’s taken place in 2020, a strange mystery has emerged: Why do people in jetpacks keep being stopped over the skies of Los Angeles?
Several media outlets reported Wednesday that a China Airlines pilot had spotted what appeared to be a person in a jetpack, flying near Los Angeles International Airport this week, at about 6,000 feet above sea level.
This is not to be confused with a different jetpack sighting, also in Los Angeles, that happened in late August, when a Jet Blue pilot spotted a similar man, albeit at only 3,000 feet high.
Who was the person in the jetpack, was it the same person both times, where did he get the jetpack, and was it even a man or a jetpack at all? The answers to all of those questions remain unanswered.
Jetpacks have long been considered a pie-in-the-sky technology of the future, the kind of prop associated with Iron Man, or perhaps Boba Fett from the “Star Wars” movies. But the technology does in fact exist, with at least two different companies in different countries having created real-life jetpacks.
“The FBI is in contact with the FAA and is investigating multiple reports of what, according to witnesses, appeared to be an individual in a jetpack near LAX, including one today reported by a China Airlines crew,” the FBI said in a statement to the media.
There’s a company called JetPack Aviation, which is actually located in Los Angeles, although there’s no definitive connection between the jetpack men and that company.
The founder of that company, David Mayman, told a local TV station that “it’s more likely an electric drone that’s been built to look like a jetpack.” Mayman also believes that the “pilot” may have in fact been a mannequin. Mayman also believes that for a jetpack to take off or land would have likely made the type of noise that would draw attention, yet no cell phone video emerged in either instance.
Both of Jetpack Aviation’s jetpacks offer an “operating ceiling” of 15,000 feet. JetPack Aviation’s website even offers a chance to give their jetpack a try, with a three-week course going for $50,000.
Wired, earlier this month, profiled a “jetpack startup” called Gravity Industries, which was created by British inventor Richard Browning, who has been described as a real-life analog to Iron Man. Gravity Industries has notched millions of YouTube views and also broke the Guinness world record for “fastest speed in a body controlled jet engine powered suit.”
In addition to fun stunts, per WRBL, Gravity Industries has teamed up with paramedics in a rural part of England to use the jetpack technologies to perform rescues. Paramedics in Arizona, per KVOA, are also hoping to use that technology for similar purposes.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.