Remember the "Jetpack Man"? The infamous figure has been visiting the Los Angeles International Airport for some time now, and one year after the first encounter and multiple sightings by pilots, the mystery has deepened, with no definitive answer yet provided. However, as mind-boggling as that is, it actually isn't the first time we've seen a jetpack and an airplane sharing the skies.
On November 5, 2015, the United Arab Emirates saw an extraordinary formation flight take place: the Emirates Airbus A380 and the brave Jetman Dubai duo, experienced pilots and operators of the smallest jet-propelled wing, took to the skies of Dubai to demonstrate just how far aviation has come.
The A380 flew in two holding patterns at 4,000 feet in a meticulously choreographed aerial display, and then it was joined by the Jetman Dubai duo, who were deployed from a helicopter hovering at 5,500 feet above the aircraft, according to a press release by Emirates.
The duo performed dazzling formations on both sides of the aircraft before joining on one side and breaking away with the Dubai skyline and the Burj Khalifa in the background.
The stark contrasts provided by the double-decker behemoth, the tiny humans, and the larger-than-life skyline may be too much for your heart to handle -- but don't worry, the display was carefully planned to ensure that nothing goes wrong. Emirates pilots, Flight Operation managers, and Air Traffic Controllers collaborated to plan the smallest details of the mission, taking into account air traffic, areas flown over, potential wind, and weather.
Wake turbulence -- a function of an aircraft producing lift that results in the formation of two counter-rotating vortices trailing behind -- was the most significant risk to the Jetman team, so the duo's formation positions were carefully chosen to avoid the areas of wake turbulence and jet efflux from the aircraft.
On 12 October 2015, a practice flight was conducted to make sure that the formation positions worked perfectly, and on 13 October 2015, the final formation flight and filming were done.
"This display between man and machine celebrates the magic and beauty of flight, a feat which just over a hundred years ago would have seemed an impossible dream," said Emirates’ Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Adel Al Redha, at the time. "It also showcases how far human vision and ambition has [pushed], and can continue to push, aviation’s boundaries."
Years after this wonderful feat, one of Dubai's "jetman," Vince Reffet, died on November 17, 2020, when his emergency parachute didn't deploy from the winged rear engines. The tragic accident further demonstrates the risks that were taken by the brave pilots and Emirates, proving once again the success of the safety measures taken by the organizations involved in this project.