Cooper Vane: A secret tool installed on aircraft helps to prevent hijackings
Plane hijackings are a serious threat to modern aircraft, but far less than they were half a century ago.
Before one high profile incident in 1971, hijacking a plane would have been a lot easier.
On November 24 that year, a man dressed in a business suit boarded a plane in Oregon.
Later he would assume the pseudonym DB Cooper, after hijacking the aircraft and parachuting out via the airstair, never to be seen again.
The aviation mystery was pivotal to industry safety – prompting the installation of a special tool on all aircraft to prevent such an incident in the future.
The Federal Aviation Administration mandated the Cooper Vane as a requirement on all commercial planes
Named after the hijacker himself, the Cooper Vane is a tiny latch fitted to the outside of all planes with airstairs.
The Federal Aviation Administration mandated the Cooper Vane as a requirement on all commercial planes with this type of door.
The latch prevents anyone from opening the door mid-flight, just as DB Cooper did.
It comprises a paddle-shaped piece of metal attached to a spring, which is pressed tight by air pressure when the plane takes off.
Cooper Vane: The latch sits on the outside of a plane to stop the airstair being opened mid-flight
Cooper Vane was named after DB Cooper who hijacked a plane in 1971
New aircraft typically don’t have airstairs at all anymore, as portable stairs can be wheeled out onto the runway with ease.
But according to experts, it would also be impossible to open these modern doors mid-flight.
Patrick Smith, pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential, explained: “You cannot – repeat, cannot – open the doors or emergency hatches of an airplane in flight.
“You can’t open them for the simple reason that cabin pressure won’t allow it.
“Think of an aircraft door as a drain plug, fixed in place by the interior pressure. “Almost all aircraft exits open inward. Some retract upward into the ceiling; others swing outward; but they open inward first, and not even the most musclebound human will overcome the force holding them shut.”
Doors are further secured by a “series of electrical and/or mechanical latches”, says Patrick.
This hasn’t stopped some passengers from trying. As recently as August, a man on an American Airlines flight tried to grab the handle of the plane’s exit door a few minutes after the pilot announced they were descending.
Flight attendants and passengers stepped in to stop him and the plane landed safely in Minneapolis.