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Given just a small hammer, I'm pretty sure I could disable a large airliner with a few well-placed blows.

What about with my bare hands?

In other words, are there any parts of a large aeroplane that are:

  • exposed
  • delicate enough that they could be damaged without using tools
  • critical to the plane's operation?

The only think I can think of are the pitot tubes and angle of attack sensors.

(Throwing oneself into the engines while they are idling does not count.)

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    $\begingroup$ Well, there are markings on wings of where not to walk, so possibly applying your full body weight, plus jumping, on the aileron, flaps, or elevators? $\endgroup$ – zymhan Jun 9 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ People have done it by throwing coins into engines as they boarded if that counts... The engines were off at the time. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 9 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ Jumping into a running jet engine to get sucked could be a very effective way to damage it. Even a bird can do this. $\endgroup$ – Pere Jun 9 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ What's the purpose of this question? What problem are you trying to solve? $\endgroup$ – Pierre B Jun 10 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ Asking for a friend. $\endgroup$ – void_ptr Jun 10 at 16:27
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Yes, a few possibilities...

  1. Brake hydraulic and electrical sensor lines located on some landing gear.
  2. Putting foreign objects under or between the rotors of brake pads
  3. Covering pitot system sensor holes
  4. Pressing or hitting the pitot tube (on most airliners you will need a ladder)
  5. Letting air or hydraulic fluid out - under inflating tires or cylinders
  6. Bending or mis-adjusting bellcranks/control arms or changing the linkage geometry.
  7. Damaging fuel vents

I am not sure of what your definition of "exposed" is but most airliners allow the E&E (electrical & equipment) bay usually located above or behind the nose gear and gear doors to be opened and closed from external control panels for ground crews. This allows access to most the computers, batteries and thousands of wire bundles. It may also give access to lines, cables, pumps, switches, and sensors.

Opening the gear doors of some airlines exposes the air-packs, generators, converters and aux turbine with it's associated mechanisms. Maintenance and inspection panels, engine cowls and fuel distribution panels expose or control critical systems.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to make sure: you can do all this things with your bare hands? 5. letting them out by hand without any tool? 7. how to damage, just with bare force? and opening these panels, don't you need some tool? $\endgroup$ – Mayou36 Jun 9 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure some of these count. E.g. no. 2 "Putting foreign objects under...". If you have a foreign object, then is that any different to having the hammer in the OP's example? $\endgroup$ – JBentley Jun 10 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Mayou36 - No tools needed. Jet aircraft are different than smaller GA aircraft. Access panels, cowls, gear doors, fuel control panel do not require any tools to open. Most have levers or push buttons that unlatch with bare fingers. $\endgroup$ – jwzumwalt Jun 10 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @jwzumwalt Hence why physical security of the aircraft is so important! $\endgroup$ – Mark Micallef Jun 11 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ Using foreign objects would clearly be cheating! $\endgroup$ – Daniele Procida Jun 11 at 10:28
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I expect blade antennas could be damaged with a good blow (or several) from the side. Any number of wire bundles & hydraulic lines in the wheel well could probably be damaged with enough determined yanking on them. Or disconnecting the cannon plugs - although without further damage, that by itself could be reconnected.

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    $\begingroup$ An interesting question is could one of the stowaways who occasionally climb into the wheel wells, either a) damage it enough to force it to land (presumably as a self-preservation action after they discover how harsh the environment is) or b) crash the plane outright as a terror action. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 9 at 7:02
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Yes, it can happen.

All they'd have to do is pick up some gravel or some other pieces of FOD (Foreign Object Debris) and throw them into the engine intakes. It's probably not going to cause catastrophic damage immediately, but it will significantly increase the maintenance required to keep them operating.

I've actually heard a story about this happening once by some maintenance engineers who were upset about their overtime hours being cut, but a quick Google search isn't turning anything up - possibly because they were quietly fired after they got caught on camera and the news organizations never heard about it.

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