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Heymatt:

Do jumbo jets have keys? If so, has anyone ever lost them and delayed a flight?

-- Jay, waiting on the tarmack

We have so many other, more annoying ways to delay flights these days. Losing the keys seems like child's play by comparison. And besides, a commercial jet doesn't have keys. Flip a couple of switches, and she's purring like a contented whale. Your car doesn't really need a key for ignition either; starters just evolved that way for reasons unrelated to auto engineering.

Consider this. Keys suggest locks. Locks suggest security-- keeping somebody out. A thief, perhaps? A jumbo-jet thief? No need to lock a large commercial jet, since it's really, really hard to sneak one out of an airport quickly and quietly.

If you look at history, you'd have to figure that the day after we invented valuable objects, we invented theft. Locks go back at least 4000 years. Wooden pin-and-tumbler-style devices. The Romans, who had plenty of stuff to protect and plenty of paranoia, made the first metal lock that required a matching key to open it. Our common Yale tumbler lock appeared in 1848. Today, of course, with rapid advances in theft technology, we keep security-device inventors hopping.

From the beginning, cars have been ideal targets for the felonious. By 1904 Cadillacs had anti-theft ignition devices. Since a plane requires that the thief know how to fly it, aircraft are less vulnerable in general. But if big commercial jets don't have door or ignition keys, smaller general aviation planes definitely do. And prop locks and wheel boots and throttle locks and control panel locks�. Drug smugglers love to steal zippy King Air turboprops or Rockwell Aero Commanders or even slow little Cessnas for short hops in the jungle. But these thefts are more often made outside the U.S., in Latin America or the Caribbean. Only 3 general aviation planes were stolen last year in the U.S., 13 the year before, according to the Aviation Crime Prevention Institute. But as we all know, crime marches on, so maybe jumbo jet keys are just over the horizon.

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