A Q&A with the teenager who tracked Elon Musk’s private jet
Jack Sweeney, aka the mastermind behind the bots that track Elon Musk’s private jet, speaks to THE FACE about his, shall we say, eventful week.
The biggest aviation-related adventure this writer ever had was hitchhiking from Stockholm airport via an Ikea lorry. I was aged 19 and nursing my first three-day hangover. Jack Sweeney, also 19 and from Florida, USA, is making slightly bigger waves in the aviation space this week.
See, he’s the young man behind the ElonJet Twitter account (and its bots) which has caused the world’s richest man – around 241.4 billion dollars at the time of writing – more than a little discomfort of late.
The account started tracking Musk’s private jet back in June 2020. By this point, Sweeney had already earned a part-time role as an Application Developer for UberJets (a private jet booking app). Musk, an active Twitter user, found out about the account last November and first messaged him at the start of December. A little uneasy about the fact that literally anyone could find out where his jet was heading, he sent a DM to Sweeney, asking him to remove the account for the sum of £5k (“Can you take this down? It is a security risk,” he wrote).
Since then, Sweeney’s account has gained 200,000 followers, he’s been offered all sorts of jobs, and generally spent a lot of time speaking to the media about his first of its kind bot-to-twitter programme.
He hasn’t had a penny from Musk. But still – not bad work for a fresher, hey?
Hello Jack! What are you up to today?
Not a whole lot compared to yesterday, just catching up on schoolwork
What was happening yesterday?
Just talking to the media. It’s kind of tiring but it’s also kinda cool.
Why have you decided to speak with the media?
Last week, when Musk started asking me to take the account down, I had a couple reporters approach me and I just figured I’d speak to them. Say my intentions.
So you study at the University of Central Florida, right?
Yeah, I’m an IT major. And I’ve just always been interested in computer stuff and aviation. Computers generally since I was pretty young.
I read that you can code in five languages.
Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I’m not crazy good at them. But, you know, I can do stuff in them.
When did aviation become an interest?
I think it started with SpaceX [Musk’s aerospace company], and especially their “Falcon Heavy” launch back on 6th February 2018. I think that’s when a lot of people started following them. And from there I just started following everything that was going on over on Twitter with SpaceX and the Tesla community generally.
How come you decided to make the tracking bots?
I just wanted to try it out. It was basically my first programming project, which I started during COVID because I had a lot of time on my hands to just mess around with it. I’ve always looked up to Elon Musk and it felt interesting to see what his jet might be up to.
You have a fair few – ElonJet, TrumpJets, BezosJets, CelebJets, GatesJets – 14 of them in total. How long did they take to set up?
Yeah, it took a couple of months to get the first version going, but that was pretty basic to start with. This was back in August 2020, and the detail has been really good since around January 2021. I’m the only person that’s doing it to this level, with the bots and stuff. There’s some people that are doing other stuff.
Did you expect it to go anywhere near these numbers?
Not at all, I mean five days ago [the Twitter account] was at 80 or 90k [followers] which was a lot. Now it’s nearing 300k. It’s been crazy.
How did that feel when actual Elon Musk first messaged you?
Crazy. Like, it’s initially cool that it’s Elon Musk. But at the same time, he’s asking me to take my project down. I understand his point of view with it all. But it took me a lot of time and gave me a lot of happiness so… it was bittersweet.
And you gave him advice on how to make his jet more private?
Yeah, it’s a blocking programme and he got it. Well, he might have always had it, but I saw it on his jet for the first time a couple days ago.
When he offered you $5k, how did that feel?
I thought it was cool, but like, for what I’ve put into it and everything… I didn’t want to lose it for just $5000.
If he offered you $50k, would you have taken it?
Yeah, probably. I’d probably buy a Tesla then, and put the rest toward college.
So he’d have gotten some of the money back eventually.
And you also gave him the chance to give you an internship. Any developments there?
Uh… he’s blocked me.
Ah shit. So are you going to keep it going?
Yeah, a lot of people are interested in it.
Is there a part of you that’s wondering if Jeff Bezos is now going to get on your case, or any of the others that you track?
That’d be pretty funny if he did. But no I haven’t really thought about it because the accounts are a lot smaller and Jeff or Bill Gates aren’t on Twitter really.
Have you got any other projects you’re working on?
Well, I’m probably going to turn this whole operation into more of a website so that it’s constantly updating itself. Maybe I’ll put some ads on it that way too.
What do your friends think?
Yeah they all know about it now and they think it’s cool.
If someone else has a project they’re working on but are now worried it’ll get them in trouble, what would your advice be?
They should still try and do their projects, it’s fun and rewarding. But you shouldn’t be, like, trying to go after money with it. Musk offered $5000 dollars, I didn’t ransom him… [Distractedly] Oh, he’s just landed somewhere near Harlingen, Texas. Second time he’s done this today. I gotta tweet that.
Alright, we’ll let you get on with it. Bye, Jack!