Many modes of transportation including airplanes have keys, but what about helicopters? Do they have keys? If they do, is the same key that is used for ignition also used to open and close the doors, and the fuel tank?

Well, the answer to do helicopters have keys is that some do and some don’t. It very much depends on the type of helicopter and whether it is used for civil or military purposes.

Helicopter Type

Most piston-powered powered helicopters, like the popular Robinson R22, have ignition keys to start the engine and secure the doors. This is to prevent theft, especially as these smaller helicopters don’t require as extensive training to fly as other types, making them easier and more of a target to steal.

Turbine-powered helicopters do not have ignition keys, but they do have keys to secure the doors. The exception to this is military helicopters, which have a key lock that enables/disables the ignition circuitry. If a key isn’t inserted and turned to the “on” position, the turbine igniters won’t fire and the engine won’t start. Military helicopters also have locking bars on the door handles.

Not all military aircraft have keys, though. Most fighter jets don’t have keys, as there is very little chance of one being stolen due to requiring extensive prior training and familiarity with the specific aircraft to be able to fly.

Why Do Military Helicopters Have Keys?

Interestingly, military helicopters didn’t always have keys. It was only due to an incident that involved a helicopter mechanic stealing a helicopter and landing it on the South Lawn of the White House that changed this.

In 1974, a U.S. Army Private named Robert K. Preston stole a Bell UH-1B Iroquois “Huey” helicopter from Tipton Field, Maryland. He had originally enlisted in the Army with the goal of serving as a helicopter pilot but was unsuccessful in graduating from the helicopter training program. As he was bound to the army for four years, he then had no choice but to serve as a helicopter mechanic instead of a helicopter pilot.

Safe to say, he wasn’t best pleased and somehow thought that showcasing his skills by stealing a helicopter and landing it on the White House would be his best course of action. Crazy, right?

What was his penalty for doing this? Well, the Secret Service opened fire, lightly wounded Preston, and he was arrested and held in custody. He was then sentenced to one year in prison and had to pay a fine of $2,400. After he had served his sentence, he received a general discharge from the army.