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in 1975 Famous Teamster Boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared after being picked up at a local restaurant.

One of the theories is that men from New Jersey boarded a plane, landed in Detroit, and assisted with the disappearance.

Security for a private planes in modern day seems to range from lax to moderate to very strict, depending on the airport.

My question?

Considering, Airport employees, pilots, flight logs, records and other obstacles, just how likely would it have been in 1975 that shadowy figures would be able to board a plane from New Jersey to Detroit undetected, without leaving something for Law enforcement to go on?

Thank you for the taking the time to read my question.

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  • $\begingroup$ since the question is about aviation nearly 50 years ago, I've added the aviation-history tag. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 24, 2023 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm confused about by question. You say "Security for a private planes in modern day seems to range from lax to moderate to very strict, depending on the airport." As I see it, "security for private planes" relates to measures that would prevent people from tampering with, sabotaging, stealing components of, or stealing, etc, private planes. What is this connection between this, and the ability of persons to fly on private planes without leaving behind a trail? Are you asking specifically about security cameras that the police might be able to access afterwards, if they had a reason to? $\endgroup$ May 24, 2023 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ Along the same lines, I can see an argument that the ability of people to freely travel by private plane without leaving behind a trail for others to follow, might represent an enhancement in security (at least for the security of those people), not a deficit in security. I'm thinking along the lines of --celebrities, paparazzi, etc. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2023 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Quiet Flyer- all I was saying is that in some airports, people drive up and get on the plane- others require a security checkpoint- others seem to have the same procedure as commercial only without the line ups. It varies is all. $\endgroup$
    – Sithjedi66
    May 25, 2023 at 0:57

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As there is no requirement to file flightplans for VFR flights in most places AND no requirement to file a list of occupants of a private aircraft, it's quite possible to fly from one place to another without the police knowing about it.

This was as true in 1975 as it is today, certainly in the USA.

Now, when talking with ATC you may be required to mention how many people are on board (we sure did when I was having flying lessons), but you don't have to tell anyone your names.

On a busy field nowadays there'd be cameras everywhere and recordings might exist for a while until the tapes are wiped to be reused. But unless there is a search warrant those tapes won't ever be handed over to the police except when voluntarily handed over when there is a known security breach. Back in 1975 that'd have been far less likely as such equipment was far less common.

But even now, if you're at a quiet field, there may not be any cameras. I was in Canada at a small field in 2018 and there were not only no fences, but no cameras, and most buildings had locks that for anyone with even the simplest of tools could be removed in seconds (and anyone having an aircraft parked there would have keys anyway). Some hangars had cameras on the inside, nothing on the outside however.

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  • $\begingroup$ ATC will generally only as for the number of souls on board if you declare an emergency. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2023 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your informative response Jwenting. $\endgroup$
    – Sithjedi66
    May 24, 2023 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Back in 1975 that'd have been far less likely as such equipment was far less common. Closed Circuit TV monitoring was quite common by 1975. But recording was still very expensive until the 1980s, and therefore extremely unlikely at a small private field. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2023 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact yes, and recording was also not really feasible for longer periods because of the massive bulk of the tapes you'd need. The first compact video tapes didn't come about until about a decade later, and those would only hold about half an hour to an hour. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 25, 2023 at 4:21
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall yes, though for airliner flights (especially international) there are additional reporting requirements for national security and law enforcement reasons. Those agencies like to know where people are, especially foreigners. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 25, 2023 at 4:22
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The following applies just as well today as it would have in 1975:

If the weather was clear...

Flight plans here in the US are only required for IFR flight. Radio communications are only required in controlled airspace and/or when necessary for IFR flight, and/or when operating out of a controlled airfield.

That being said, if the weather is above VFR minimums you could easily fly from an uncontrolled field in NJ to an uncontrolled field in and or around Detroit without ever even talking to anyone on the radio let alone filing a flight plan.

Airport security is a mixed bag depending on what your talking about and if you are going to include all ~16,000 Fields in the US (at last count) then the range is everything from nothing to "is that even a runway" up through a 2 foot fence with a sign that says "Pilots and Passengers Only" all the way up to full customs zones that allow intercontinental travel with TSA agents all over the place, metal detectors and loads of stuff you cant see.

There are plenty of small airfields (redish circles here, many of which have been around since the 70s) within a stones throw from NYC and Philadelphia all in NJ that would be prime candidates for such an operation. You could easily get a 1970's vintage twin prop plane in and out of most of these fields and cary out such a flight.

As for "logs and records" the onus to complete those is on the pilot and there are plenty of historic examples of such logs being omitted, forged, and/or manipulated for nefarious reasons. For VFR flights there is no legal paperwork required to get in the air, log books are generally filled out after the flight.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's worth emphasising that this answer is just as applicable to 1975 as it is today. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    May 23, 2023 at 23:55
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your detailed response Dave much appreciated! $\endgroup$
    – Sithjedi66
    May 24, 2023 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you Ben- this has been a hard answer to get from people. $\endgroup$
    – Sithjedi66
    May 24, 2023 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ "the range is everything from a 2 foot fence with a sign..." I'd lower that to "nothing". $\endgroup$ May 24, 2023 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ A quick search of weather history indicates it was good weather (70s/80s, no precipitation, good visibility) in Detroit and at least some parts of NJ on that day. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2023 at 20:15

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