back to article 'A guy in a jetpack' seen flying at 3,000ft within few hundred yards of passenger jet landing at LA airport

The pilots of a passenger jet landing at LA International reckon they were approached by a mysterious flyer equipped with what was described as a "jetpack," passing within a few hundred yards of their aircraft. The encounter occurred Sunday evening local time as American Airlines flight 1997, flying out of Philadelphia, was …

  1. chic

    The spirit of Larry Walters . . .

    . . . lives on!

  2. Chris G

    The first question is Smart phone pics? are there any and if so why not?

    Second question, was the jet pack red with a gold face plate?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Same question.

      The A321 has, what, 45 or 50 windows down each side? Every time I ever flew commercial, people had their cameras out when coming in for a landing ... this was true even in the days of film! These days, everybody has a camera, and everybody loves that aerial shot. Shirley somebody managed a picture (or six) of this thing, even if it was somewhat blurry. It's not like the lighting would have been bad at ~6:30PM local time. (This is a daily commuter flight, currently over the Iowa/Nebraska state line, just south of Osceola as I type.)

      In the words of the GreatUnwashed, pics or it never happened.

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: Same question.

        A Playmobil reconstruction would be a good start....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Same question.

        in theory, you're right. But then, it's not like many people out of those 45 or 50 window seats look through them. My impression and memory of flying as a passenger is that most people just hunch over and prey to their screened Masters reverently held in their paws.

        Also, it's not like that rocket-riding individual would have kept pace with the aircraft for people to notice and point their Masters towards the strange phenomenon, it probably lasted no longer than a few seconds and they parted their ways.

        Now, I wonder, which one of the thousands of jetpacks in use in California it might have been...

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Same question.

          My experience is that when the plane is in the vicinity of its destination airport and flying free of cloud at low altitudes, plenty of people like to look out of the window.

          1. Dagg Silver badge

            Re: Same question.

            Yea, but they are looking down not out or above.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      I will tell you from experience, snapping that pic from your phone through glass is not easy! I tried to snap a pic of a Beluga flying near Toulouse while riding in a car on the highway.

      Are you asking about the jet pack for a friend? Mr. Stark perhaps?

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        I now know what you mean, but I was sceptical of you seeing a whale that can fly. looks like it's been possessed by a gigantic brain slug. If you don't think so... then slap yourself firmly on the head a few times: just in case.

        1. chivo243 Silver badge

          I actually saw it twice, once in the morning, on the way to a Gaelic village, yes Gaelic, I would hate to sound crazy twice in one thread, and then on the way back in the late afternoon, both times I got really Tabloid looking photos!

    3. Torben Mogensen

      I wonder why commercial airplanes don't have cameras recording everything visible through the cockpit windows? That way, you could review all sightings after the plane lands. Such cameras would not need extensive testing, as they do not affect the flight (except by drawing a small amount of power, and even that could be replaced by batteries).

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Cameras out the window

        I wonder why commercial airplanes don't have cameras recording everything visible through the cockpit windows? That way, you could review all sightings after the plane lands. Such cameras would not need extensive testing, as they do not affect the flight (except by drawing a small amount of power, and even that could be replaced by batteries).

        I suspect aircrew would object for the same reason that policemen like to have body cameras that can be accidently turned off when suspects are about to fall down some steps.

        Civil aviation is not as clean and orderly as it seems. There are hundreds of near misses reported - and probably vastly more unreported - each year plus thousands of bad landings and takeoffs, and plenty of accidents and other incidents on the ground for which blame might be more fairly apportioned.

      2. Cuddles

        For the most part cameras just aren't good enough. The average dashcam is just barely able to make out a number plate from a few metres away. They're great for having a record of nearby events leading up to a crash, since the important details tend be quite big and close. But dig up some footage and try making out useful detail on something happening just 100m away. Same for police body cameras. They can record interactions with a person right in front of you, but they're useless for seeing anything further - basically if you can't talk to it, you can't record it usefully either. Same again for all the action and sport cameras around, which are essentially the same thing in a slightly different package - it's actually a lot of effort to get any decent footage because you have to be a lot closer than you might think to be able to see anything at all. There's a reason real cameras with decent lenses and zooms still very much have a place in the world.

        So sticking a dashcam on planes would be largely useless. Something close in aircraft terms is going to be much too far away for a dashcam to actually see. Same for mobile phones; as much as they've improved, they're really not up to capturing good pictures of a fast-moving, human-sized object from several hundred metres away, even before you start worrying about the state of the windows. Use a better camera, and now you need to worry about zoom, depth of field, and so on, and are unlikely to capture useful footage without significant manual intervention.

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Totally agree

          The photo linked is taken with a DSLR and at slight tele (70mm, ~105 on Full frame), on a clear day and through a clean window.

          In that case you may make out something slightly larger than a person at 100m distance. With a mobile which is wide angle, not likely

          1. RockBurner

            Re: Totally agree

            linky broken.

            1. Stork Silver badge

              Re: Totally agree

              Not on mine, could be some script in the gallery plugin if you block that. Can be found on this page:

        2. Mike 137 Silver badge


          "Use a better camera, and now you need to worry about zoom, depth of field, and so on, and are unlikely to capture useful footage without significant manual intervention."

          During WW2 reconnaissance fighters were fitted with forward facing wing tip cameras with 20" (500 mm) fixed focus lenses. Diving at the target at 300 mph they produced remarkably clear pictures. It can be done - see the relevant plates in "Most Secret War" (R. V. Jones 1972).

          1. Stork Silver badge

            Re: Alternatively

            We don't know what size of negative (perhaps you do), but forward facing is the key here. Taking pictures of something a bit to the side is more difficult

            1. Cuddles

              Re: Alternatively

              Exactly, although it's not so much the sides but the variability that is the problem. If you have cameras set up to point in a specific direction and focus at a specific distance, with pilots given detailed instructions on exactly how and where to point the plane, you can no doubt get some decent pictures. When the idea is to just generally record everything in every direction at all times just in case something turns up, it's rather more difficult.

              The other thing to bear in mind is that dashcams aren't really there to watch other people. If I'm driving perfectly sensibly and legally and someone suddenly drives into the side of me, my dashcam isn't likely to have seen anything. But it will be able to prove that I wasn't the one at fault, without needing to have a clear view of anything else. If you want to actually have a decent view of everything happening around you, that would be much more difficult even for a car.

              After all, that's exactly what self-driving cars need, and current efforts already compromise with mostly just forwards and backwards views, limited resolution, and so on. Take the most advanced vision system from a self-driving car, fit it to a plane, and see how good a view you get of person-sized objects a couple of hundred metres away. It's not technically impossible, but you're going to need a hell of a lot more equipment than just sticking a regular camera in the cockpit and hoping to get a good picture of anything.

          2. IGotOut Silver badge

            Re: Alternatively

            "Diving at the target at 300 mph they produced remarkably clear pictures"

            If your aircraft is as close the the object as these the brave souls flying those aircraft had to be, I'd find another airline.

        3. Stork Silver badge

          Back of virtual envelope calculation

          If we assume a distance of 100m, 1 degree Field Of View (FOV) is equivalent to 1.75m, appr the height of a person.

          Most phone cameras have lenses with a view like a 28mm (in 35mm film), which is about 46 degrees in height. If we assume a useful image* of 2000x3000px, 1 degree is about 2000/46=23 pixels. If the item is perpendicular to your position, that is.

          *) some phones claim to have higher resolution, but if it is useful is another question.

        4. werdsmith Silver badge

          Car dashcams are cheap little plasticky gadgets, a device designed for a purpose in aviation would not be. In fact, they exist already in the military.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Anything placed in the cockpit will require extensive testing and certification, even if its not critical to flight. A simple camera that falls off its mount and hits the wrong control at the wrong time could be a disaster. A simple electronic component bursting into flame can destroy an aircraft (reference a recent airworthiness directive for Cirrus as an example)

        1. LoPath


          It's already been done. Before COVID, the company I work for had a tourism division. They had cameras mounted on the helicopter to take video that they would give to the tourists after they flew.

    4. Steve Button Silver badge

      Dash cam?

      I have one in my car, why don't planes have one. And a couple more pointing out the left and right too??

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Dash cam?

        The main use of dashcam is to sell footage of the incident to show on TV - or so it appears. Once off the ground (that is a point), an aeroplane isn't going to see much that's interesting and that isn't going to be covered by the accident investigation anyway. And anything on board costs fuel to carry.

    5. jh27

      Smartphone pics? From 1997?

    6. Robert Helpmann??

      ...was the jet pack red with a gold face plate?

      Rocketeer or Iron Man?

      1. WonkoTheSane

        It'd have to be the Rocketeer. Iron Man hangs out around New York.

    7. Scene it all

      The non-existance of flying saucers and Bigfoot can now be confirmed by a similar analysis.

  3. PhilipN Silver badge

    Gust of wind

    Day before, he was over the Louisiana coast.

  4. Stevie


    Three words:

    Bond, James Bond.

    1. Fungus Bob
      Thumb Up

      Re: Bah!

      Commando Cody! Protecting us from the threat of Radar Men from the Moon!

  5. Martin-73 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    While the guy is clearly a mental midget....

    He is at least proving that we are in fact living in the 21st century. With lockdowns and politics and a global plague i was wondering.

    Icon because (a) he should have used one

    and (b) I suspect he soon will be a passenger in one.

  6. cantankerous swineherd

    one for sussex police, they'll lock up the innocent party toot sweet

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    should probably check the missing persons file, would a jet pack operative at 3000ft get back on the ground alive?

    this one comes with a parachute in case its needed!!

    1. JassMan

      Re: 3000ft!!

      That french bloke called Franky Zapata could possibly have achieved this. He flew 22 miles across the channel so climbing to FL30 may be possible. I also had the impression he wants to sell his invention to the military so might have done it as a publicity stunt.

      1. Phones Sheridan Silver badge

        Re: 3000ft!!

        That wasn't flying, that was falling with style!

        Seriously tho, his first crossing was more of a powered glide, he launched at 8000ft not sea level, people have been power gliding across the channel for over 40 years. For me, his best achievement was his hoverboard crossing where he did take off from the beach. Yes he had to make a fuel stop half way across, but maintaining a steady 30-40 feet requires a lot more skill than jumping out of a plane at 8000 feet and travelling downwards all the way.

  8. Imhotep

    Last One Out Turn Off The Lights

    I believe it was actually a rocket pack and the gentleman was leaving the planet on a search for intelligent life.

  9. AdamWill
    Black Helicopters


    "And before people start with the conspiracy theories that this is government tech gone wrong, LAX is about 100 miles from Edwards Air Force Base, 160 miles from Vandenberg Air Force Base, and 270 miles from Area 51 – and all would likely be well outside the range any wearable flying device would be able to travel."

    Well, that's all *you* know...

    1. Imhotep

      Re: hah

      The underground alien base is under the Sandia facility in New Mexico, but I still wouldn't rule it out.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: hah

        Is that Never Never Land, as I'm going back 7 days!

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: hah

      One might be suspicious that they didn't mention China Lake or Fort Irwin ... If one were prone to that kind of paranoia, of course. I'm not, so obviously I've been gotten at ...

    3. eldakka

      Re: hah

      And I'm sure with the alien tech they have at Area 51, if incorporated in such a device, would make 270 miles a trivial distance.

  10. Chris Tierney

    Mistaken identity

    I highly doubt the pilots saw a real guy in a jet pack. More likely to be a weather balloon or some other unmanned craft. Jet packs are noisy and wouldn't be subtle on take off.

    1. tony72

      Re: Mistaken identity

      Agreed. Three hundred yards is a long way away; if you assume the guy is 2 yards tall, and you hold up a ruler three feet away from you, the guy's apparent size on the ruler would be 1/4 of an inch. Not very big at all. Highly unlikely that you can reliably identify something that size at that range. I'm sure whatever it was kinda looked like a guy in a jetpack, but it most probably was not.

  11. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    A guy pig in a jetpack

    There, FTFY.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Flying pigs!?

      Sure, why not.

      After all, Donald Trump is President.

      1. jake Silver badge

        That would be a ...

        ... sinking pig, Shirley?

  12. Barking mad

    Did the guy look like Elon Musk?

    Jack Northrop Field. 3 miles east of LAX. To quote Wikipedia:

    "SpaceX and its spinoff The Boring Company are headquartered at the southeast end of the airport. The Boring Test Tunnel cuts runs just under the fence line at the north-east corner before running under West 120th Street. Tesla Design Studio is located at the airport as well. "

    'nuf said.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Did the guy look like Elon Musk?

      Three miles east of LAX that Airbus would have been well under 1000 feet, not up around 3000 ... Unless the pilot was planning on giving his passengers a thrill. Are A321s rated for aerobatics? Somehow I doubt it ...

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Did the guy look like Elon Musk?

        It wouldn't be the first time a left pondian gets confused over feet to meters conversion.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Did the guy look like Elon Musk?

          It wasn't feet to meters confusion, it was altitude vs distance to landing confusion. It stated clearly in TOA that the aircraft was at 3000 feet 10 miles from LAX. That would put 'em somewhere over South Gate (ish). That's almost all residential.

          I was making a smart-ass reply because I know that large passenger jets are typically at or under 1000 feet as they go over Crenshaw Blvd. (the East end of Hawthorne Municipal Airport's runway) and down to around 750 by the time they get to Prairie Avenue (the West end of Hawthorn).

          The East end of LAX and the West end of Hawthorne are about two miles apart east-west, and about a mile north-south. Note that the passenger jets don't actually fly over Hawthorn, they parallel it about a mile to the north.

          Hawthorn (HHR) is the real name of Jack Northrop Field ... It's probably easier to go ogle it than it is to picture it from my description. Clear as mud?

      2. Remy Redert

        Re: Did the guy look like Elon Musk?

        It's undoubtedly capable of a 1G barrel roll, even if doing so would give the insurance people conniptions.

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Re: Did the guy look like Elon Musk?

          It has been done by civilian aircraft before:

          1. stiine Silver badge

            Re: Did the guy look like Elon Musk?

            Well, yes,

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. David Pearce


    I presume that the jetpack flier would not have a radar transponder, but the motor must be metal and a decent radar reflector

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Radar?

      Depends if LAX operate an actual radar or not. They may only use a transponder system - many airports do nowadays. It's cheaper. Though I'd not want to run a major airport without proper radar as a backup.

    2. Remy Redert

      Re: Radar?

      Even if they were running primary radar and someone was looking at those screens, he'd most likely be filtered out as noise. A human sized target is unlikely to make enough radar return to pass the noise filters.

    3. LoPath

      Re: Radar?

      Hey jetpack guy... squawk 7500

    4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Radar?

      No transponder and lucky if he even had a radio. Even luckier if he had it tuned to LAX approach or tower frequency.

      Lights? Hah!

  14. Carl D

    The airliner pilots should have followed him then maybe they could have rescued this lost family.

  15. cb7

    I'm surprised no one's made a VTOL version yet.

    The amount of thrust needed to keep a person in a wingsuit in the air is a lot less than using thrust alone to keep them there.

    Heck you could get away with even less power if you can sort out take-off and landing on eg roller skates.

  16. BackToTheFuture

    Sincalir Spectrum's.....

    Jet Pack Bob. Obs.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Sincalir Spectrum's.....

      Searching for his missing trailer.

  17. Alister

    I can't believe no-one has yet posted:

    Is it a bird? Is it a plane? no, it's some guy in a jetpack...

  18. Blackjack Silver badge


    Seeing mirages is not unknown, but it would be heck of a coincidence.

    1. batfink

      Re: Mirage?

      Seeing Mirages is quite common (or at least used to be) if you're in the French Air Force. However they're quite large and readily identifiable.

      1. Blackjack Silver badge

        Re: Mirage?

        Anything can be reflected on a Mirage if it meets the right conditions. But having the jetpack be just there at the right moment and time to be reflected and for the mirage to be seen by the pilot... those are some crazy odds.

  19. William Higinbotham

    Check out Go Pro video in helicopter

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...a massive ongoing campaign led by the US Air Force and a number of manufacturers who want to build single-person drone aircraft that the military could use for things like disaster relief or resupply missions."

    By definition, don't drones typically have <1 people on board?

    1. quxinot

      Mental image of a drone delivering a single, bloody arm.

      Thanks for that.

      (Also a joke about the "real cut-rate!" tickets, but we'll let that one go.)

    2. stiine Silver badge

      Think of it as something Carlos Ghosn might have used.

  21. Patched Out

    Super Dave

    Maybe it was Super Dave Osborne! RIP, Bob Einstein.

  22. Mike Moyle


    I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that it was something like this and the pilots just extrapolated a jet pack because how ELSE would he be up there?

  23. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

    My guess

    ...but it's only a guess.

    Interesting that we have heard nothing more about this incident. You'd think there would have been some other reports.

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