In several bizarre incidents spanning nearly a year, commercial airline pilots have reported seeing what appears to be a person wearing a jetpack flying dangerously close to Los Angeles International Airport.
The strange sightings have prompted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials to warn pilots in the area of LAX to be on the lookout for the unknown person or object, dubbed by the media as “Jetpack Man.”
Seen flying around Los Angeles at least four times in 2020 and 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has even launched an over year-long, ongoing investigation into the mysterious Jetpack Man sightings.
In an update on the peculiar case, on November 2, the FAA and FBI released statements suggesting one working theory is that the so-called “Jetpack Man” may actually be a balloon.
“The FAA has worked closely with the FBI to investigate every reported jetpack sighting. So far, none of these sightings have been verified,” reads the statement. “One working theory is that pilots might have seen balloons.”
The FAA and FBI’s comments came a day after NBC Los Angeles affiliate KNBC released images captured by a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter showing a human-shaped balloon floating thousands of feet above the Holmby Hills and Beverly Hills areas. The inflatable appears to have been a life-sized Jack Skellington – the main character in Tim Burton’s 1993 movie “A Nightmare Before Christmas.”
The LAPD aircrew recorded the images while on routine patrol in early November 2020. The balloon was seen just a few weeks after a China Airlines pilot reported seeing something that looked like a man in a jetpack flying around 6,000 feet over Culver City or Century City on October 14, 2020.
The first “Jetpack Man” sighting occurred on August 20, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. local time, when an American Airlines and Skywest pilot both reported seeing a “guy in a jetpack” hovering at approximately 3,000 feet near the final approach path to LAX.
On December 21, 2020, a pilot and flight instructor with Sling Pilot Academy captured a video showing what appeared to be a humanoid-shaped object, flying at around 3,000 feet and south of Los Angeles, near Palos Verdes and Catalina Island.
In the most recent sighting, on July 28, 2021, the pilot of a Kalitta Air Cargo 747 on approach to LAX told air traffic controllers they could see the infamous “jet man” flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet and just off his plane’s right-wing.
Given that sightings occurred on at least four separate occasions and over almost a year, the specific inflatable object captured by the LAPD cannot account for the previous “Jetpack Man” sightings. However, the images demonstrate how easily a sizeable human-shaped balloon can be easily mistaken for a person flying in a jetpack.
“This sighting may explain a few nagging questions,” retired airline pilot and aviation consultant Ross Aimer told The Debrief in an email.
“Normally JetPacks do not ascend to some of the altitudes reported by observing pilots,” Aimer told The Debrief, while noting that on one occasion that he knew of, a jetpack reportedly reached 5,000 feet.
“JetPacks cannot climb that high and then hover for an extended period of time before running out of propellant,” Aimer says, adding that “No one else on the ground found any evidence or saw anything.”
Aimer also explained that at the estimated approach speeds of the previous aircraft whose pilots observed what appeared to be jet pack pilots, mistaking a balloon for a piloted craft becomes all the more feasible.
“It is very easy to mistake a JetPack with a balloon at intermediate approach speeds of around 200kts from peripheral vision. (Side window of an aircraft.) Especially if you have a preconceived notion of the ‘Jet Man’ flying around!”
“So this latest discovery makes more sense,” Aimer concludes.
FBI and FAA officials told KNBC “that after more than a year of investigation, federal agents have been unable to find additional witnesses who saw, or recorded video, of any of the flying objects reported by the pilots either in flight or falling to the ground.”
So while balloons appear to be the most likely explanation for these bizarre sightings, at this point, the FBI considers the mystery of the “Jetpack Man” to still be unsolved.
This article was updated on November 5, 2021. Additional reporting by Micah Hanks.