Cessna 150 is very easy plane to steal

September 13, 1994|By Mark Matthews and John Fairhall | Mark Matthews and John Fairhall,Washington Bureau of The Sun Sun staff writer Lyle Denniston contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- How tough is it to steal a 1971 Cessna 150? Not very, if you know how to fly, say those familiar with the popular craft.

To begin with, the plane's keys are not as precise as auto ignition keys, according to John Frank, executive director of the Santa Maria, Calif.-based Cessna Pilots Association.

"The key to my Cessna fits one out of every 10 Cessnas I try it in," he said. If a plane is owned by a flight school or club, "there may be a number of keys or a system for access to keys," he said. Duplicating such keys "is no more difficult than for a Ford."

The lock to the door of the plane is simple. "They are nothing but a piece of tin to get into," says Joseph V. Kesser, manager of the Harford County Airpark, who once gave Frank Eugene Corder a flying lesson.

Lacking a key, someone can start the plane fairly easily if he knows what wires to cut, says Mr. Frank.

The ignition system in a Cessna generates electricity internally and does not require a battery. The engine is shut off by grounding wires to an ignition device called a magneto.

"Anyone who has had flight instruction would not have too difficult a time stealing a simple airplane," says Mr. Frank, whose organization represents 14,000 Cessna owners.

Mr. Corder's father was the founder of an Aberdeen flying club, and his sons, including Frank, had been around airplanes most of their lives.

The Cessna 150 is a popular plane used to teach pilots.

"Probably the world's most popular plane for that purpose," said company spokesman Dave Franson. From 1956 to 1986 Cessna built nearly 30,000 of the 150 and the nearly identical 152 model.

"It's probably one of the most simple airplanes to fly in the world," he added.

It has only two seats, side by side, "and not a lot of space for baggage," Mr. Franson said. It weighs just 1,675 pounds without fuel, has a wing span of 33 feet and is 24 feet long. When new, the 1971 Cessna cost $13,000.

With its 110 horsepower engine, it can fly about 3 1/2 hours -- 300 miles -- on a full tank, cruising at 110 to 115 miles per hour.

According to Mr. Kesser, the plane Mr. Corder crashed at the White House had about 3.2 hours of fuel left when it took off from the Harford field.

Mr. Franson, who is familiar with the White House grounds, said it might be possible to safely land a Cessna on the South Lawn if the pilot is skilled and approaches from the south -- as Mr. pTC Corder is believed to have done.

"Whatever he did," Mr. Franson said of Mr. Corder, "he didn't do very well."

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