This guy stole a few small planes like two c172s, a 182 and a Columbia 400.

Also, in 2003 two persons stole a Boeing 727.
Has there been other cases like this one where someone stole a large aircraft? If so, what is the largest aircraft to ever been stolen, preferably by a single person?

(To clarify, I'm doing some research for a story I'm writing. I don't plan to beat the record, rest assured.)

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    $\begingroup$ define "stolen", or you will end up with one of the suicide commercial pilots as an answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ "I'm doing some research for a story I'm writing." I actually guessed that as soon as I read the question title. Something about it just tickled my "worldbuilding HNQ" sense :-) $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ Does defecting count as stealing in your definition @JimyPP? $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's good you are researching, but don't go too far on accuracy. Reality should never get in the way of a good story @JimyPP. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ If you're interested in a fictional account that involves a single person flying a 747-200, go to terryliittschwager.com/novel.php. It's an unpublished novel I wrote years ago. Having flown the 747 on international routes for 10 years preceding my retirement in 1999, I took pains to ensure everything was accurate, that what I wrote could actually be done.The protagonist taking the airplane starts in chapter 31 as I remember. Feel free to use anything that you wish. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 16:51

3 Answers 3


Probably the one you stated in your question. Though, I should note, that there is some credible evidence that only one person was actually flying the plane and the other may have been forced into coming along. So you could probably consider it to have been stolen by one person, and that person appears to have not been remotely qualified to fly it. When it was leaving the plane seemed to meander down the taxiway to the runway, like the pilot had no idea what they were doing, and then it took off. It hasn't been seen since, and most credible theories think it crashed in the ocean. But conspiracy theories abound.

A close second would probably be this ATR-42-320(wikipedia plane reference), also stolen in Africa. This time by an employee of the company who was, unfortunately, suicidal. He flew the plane around the airport for a few minutes demanding to speak to everyone from his boss, to his significant other to the president of the country. He eventually crashed it into a couple of other ATR's the company owned.

In reference to the "I'm writing a story" line. I would suggest that a 727 probably isn't the optimal plane for a single person to steal. They're older and difficult to manage on your own. I think a much better option would be a more modern aircraft, like an Airbus A350 or a Boeing 787. They have avionics that allow for one person to reasonably fly the plane.

Granted, they are very new and may be harder to steal. Probably the sweet spot between "new enough to be flyable by one person" and "old enough to have one just sitting around to be stolen" would be something like a 737-800 or an Airbus A320. Both are still quite large, but a skilled pilot could probably operate one on their own if they needed to. In fact, it has happened before.

  • $\begingroup$ I also thought of this one. That's why I included it in my list of examples in the question. $\endgroup$
    – Jimy
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @JimyPP Ah, ooops, that's what I get for just reading the title. I edited my answer to acknowledge that you pretty much already have the answer and then added some details from another large plane that was stolen. Then, in an effort to be helpful, added some comments on more modern planes that could likely be stolen by a single person. Hopefully it's helpful :). $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ From a story perspective to be believable the thief would have to have a reasonable level of experience in the type, or something similar. An A320 pilot could take a bash at stealing an A350 as the systems are common, for example. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf, you just push all the buttons in the right order to make the engines come on. There's not a key or any authentication system like on a car. Getting in the locked door on a plane is the only security (and I'm not sure the 737 has a door lock, but you'd need a ladder and someone to move the ladder). $\endgroup$
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ @EdDaniel Obscenely cruel, but fair. I'm guessing you're from the land of reddit. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 17:09

You might want to look at airplane repossession - Depending on the owner, it may not be too far from (legal) theft. There is a show Airplane Repo and Air & Space Smithsonian has an article on repossession. I suspect most of these are either small planes or involve multiple people, but you still might find something useful.

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    $\begingroup$ Having watched (all?) of the Airplane Repo show, I think the only ones that are real are the very first few episodes that followed a few repos done by Nick Popovich (listed as Season 0 in Wikipedia). These came out before the "reality series" and were more documentary style. The regular series after that uses all the typical scripted reality show tropes and I doubt if half of it is based anywhere in reality. $\endgroup$
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I noticed that in the Wikipedia article. Still may be useful for a story. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I came to this question to make the same answer. The Popovich episodes are extremely interesting, but even the reality series does show some actual issues you’d come across when trying to steal a plane. Definitely useful. $\endgroup$
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ The TV show Airplane Repo is faker than a $3 bill. The producers claim it's based on real repossession incidents, but near as I've seen it's another 'reality' show with choreographed segments for the purposes of entertainment (yeah, you break into a hanger on a guarded airfield and fly out a Lear 35 in a hurry that just happens to have GoPros mounted on the belly and wingtips). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 14:49

There was a USAF C-130 'taken' by an upset Airmen from RAF Mildenhall (UK) in 1969. He flew around the southern UK for a few hours, and eventually crashed in the English Channel between Bournemouth and Cherbourg.

Questions were asked about this in the UK Houses of Parliament, and so there is a written record of this in Hansard (the written transcript of goings-on in the HofP).

See Hansard.

Upon reading that it also mentions a B-45 Tornado being 'taken from RAF Alconbury in June 1958.

  • $\begingroup$ WP briefly outlines the B-45 incident - 13 June 1958. Remarkably, two crashes of aircraft out of Alconbury within a few minutes of each other! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 22:03

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