The year is 2020, and strange things are happening in our skies. It was only a few months ago that the government confirmed the existence of an active UFO task force, causing some people to look up and wonder, “What if?” Now, we’ve actually spotted something up there, but it’s not aliens.
“Tower, American 1997, we just passed a guy in a jetpack,” radioed an American Airlines pilot to air traffic control (ATC) on final approach to Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday evening. The pilot reported that the person appeared to be about 300 yards to his left, flying at the same altitude as his aircraft—about 3,000 feet. Shortly after that initial report, a pilot on another aircraft approaching LAX reported seeing the jetpack flyer, too. (You can head over to LiveATC.net to listen to the exchange yourself, which streams ATC chatter live and archives interesting clips.)
We, along with the FAA and the FBI, who are both investigating the matter, have a lot of questions.
Are Jetpacks Even Real?
Functioning jetpacks do exist, but they’re not really advanced to the point where they’re practical in any way. They’re quite bulky, and they only have enough fuel reserves for a few minutes of flight. Most of the time, they’re used as tourist attractions, and customers stay pretty close to the ground. Theoretically, however, you could purchase one for yourself.
Could Someone with a Jetpack Even Fly to 3,000 Feet?
Jetpacks are almost never used to reach high altitudes since they can only fly for a few minutes at a time, but they technically can fly that high. Take, for instance, this video by Emirates and JetmanDubai, in which two people wearing jetpacks flew alongside an A380 at 4,000 feet above Dubai. That stunt was carefully choreographed to ensure safety.
What Repercussions Might the Mysterious Jetpack Flyer Face?
In general, it’s extremely dangerous to fly anything near a plane lest there be a collision. In the case of something as small as a human flying with a jetpack, there’s also the possibility of getting sucked into the engines. And while jet engines can typically handle small bird strikes, a human-jetpack combo could prove catastrophic.
This is why airspace near airports is highly restricted for security and safety purposes. Drone operators, for instance, are forbidden to fly their devices near an airport without prior FAA approval; they could face a fine of up to $250,000 or a maximum three-year prison sentence if criminally charged.
Since we're not aware that anyone asked the FAA for permission to fly near LAX with a jetpack, this reported risk-taker could certainly face civil or criminal charges if caught.