Friday, September 4, 2020

A few thoughts on the subject of jetpacks

 

By now I imagine that most of you have heard about the pilot report of a man flying a jetpack near an aircraft on final approach to LAX. In case you haven't, a quick recap: Last weekend, an American Airlines pilot reported passing a man with a jetpack at about 3,000 feet while on final approach for landing at LAX. I was working at the time, although I did not take the report. None of us in the tower saw the jetpack, although there was at least one more pilot report of a sighting. 

I mention all this because a friend emailed me this question: Are Jetpacks considered ultralights or homebuilts? 


 

While he meant this in jest (I hope), it does make for a few mostly random thoughts, such as:

  • Technically, a jetpack could be either an ultralight* or a homebuilt**. Or both.
  • It could also possibly qualify as an LSA, or Light Sport Aircraft.
  • An ultralight aircraft does not require a pilot's license, although an LSA does.
  • Neither ultralights or LSAs require a medical certificate.
  • Operation of an ultralight in controlled airspace is generally prohibited. An experimental or LSA may be operated in controlled airspace by an appropriately-rated pilot with air traffic control approval (ATC clearance). The location where this took place is within the Los Angeles Bravo airspace.
  • If you strapped your jetpack to a mannequin and then flew it via remote control, it would technically then be considered a UAV, aka Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. In which case a crash test dummy might be a more appropriate choice.

 There are a couple of interesting coincidences about this incident:

  • The location is only a few miles from the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne
  • The company that has actually developed jetpacks that can be worn like a backpack, JetPack Aviation Corporation, is in nearby Van Nuys

One more:

  • The 1991 movie The Rocketeer was set and filmed in the Los Angeles area 

 



* --  An ultralight aircraft is one that complies with Part 103 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (14 CFR part 103). Among the requirements are that it is single occupant and weighs no more than 254 lbs empty. There are no licensing requirements for either the pilot or the aircraft.

 ** -- The term "homebuilt" is generically used to describe what the FAA refers to as "amateur-built aircraft."  These are generally aircraft built from kits, although scratch-built using plans is also less commonly done. These aircraft are licensed as "Experimental" and have restrictions on how and where they can be operated. Many ultralights and some LSAs are also built from kits (or plans). 


Los Angeles Times article: A jetpack at LAX?

Follow-up LA Times article: FBI seeks public help

An unrelated article from The Register: DARPA-backed jetpack

Image credits: The opening image came from the above-linked Register article. The Lego man image came from here: https://wptavern.com/jetpack-4-8-introduces-settings-redesign-adds-global-wordpress-com-toolbar  The Rocketeer movie poster came from the linked IMDb page. All images are presumed to be the property of their respective publishers, and were used without permission in the spirit of Fair Usage; I claim no credit or ownership. Please don't sue me.


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