On Wednesday, the second of two recent, unconfirmed jetpack sightings occurred in the skies above Los Angeles.
Details of the sightings so far are scant — on Aug. 30, pilots from two different airlines saw what one American Airlines employee described as a “guy in a jetpack.” This week’s sighting was apparently seen by a crew on a China Airlines flight.
Federal authorities are investigating the sightings, but David Mayman, chief executive of the Los Angeles-based Jetpack Aviation, said Thursday that he doesn’t believe what the pilots and crew members are seeing are indeed jetpacks.
“There are only a handful of companies working on this type of technology, and none of us have heard about anybody doing something like this,” he said.
“The question is,” he added, “why the heck would you go fly around LAX? You need to have your head read. That’s a catastrophic accident waiting to happen.”
Mayman’s company, which was established in 2016, has produced five jetpacks, he said, noting that all of them are under “lock and key.” Only two people have those keys — Mayman and his chief engineer — and none of the packs have been sold, he said.
For liability reasons, he said the company instead offers two-day sessions where — for $4,950 — trainees can travel to the company’s San Fernando Valley-based facility and learn to fly with the jetpacks.
Mayman said it was extremely unlikely that the company’s latest machines could reach the heights described by the airline crew and pilots while also safely descending.
The August sighting was at 3,000 feet; Wednesday’s was at 6,000 feet.
It would take one of the company’s turbine-powered jetpacks as long as seven minutes to reach 6,000 feet, Mayman said. The company’s latest model holds 12 gallons of fuel — or about 10 minutes’ worth.
“To climb and descend — it takes some time to do that,” he said. To fly around and be seen by an airplane — that takes even more time. “You’d just be out of fuel,” he said.
When the jetpack descends, it does so under a large parachute. And no one has perfected a recovery system, as the canopies are known, to be used so high.
“Without a recovery system it would be super scary,” he said. “We would not do it.”
Finally, Mayman said the jet engines that power the systems are extremely loud — a fact that likely would have prompted videos and photos, especially because the first sighting was made in a heavily populated area south of downtown Los Angeles, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the sightings.
The Federal Aviation Administration has said only that the second sighting was roughly seven miles northwest of Los Angeles International Airport.
No such videos have surfaced.
So what does Mayman think the airlines are actually seeing?
A battery-powered electric drone, possibly loaded with an inflatable mannequin, that’s being flown remotely. They’re far quieter, and the person flying the device could use augmented reality or virtual reality goggles to pilot.
“Any teen could put this together with parts from China,” he said. “You could be talking about a bright high school kid or college kid — they could build something like this really easily.”
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.