Cold War Era

The story of the USAF B-52 Stratofortress Strategic Bomber that did a fly-by below the flight deck of USS Ranger Aircraft Carrier

In 1990 a USAF B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber was five miles out from USS Independence and asked permission to do a fly-by. The carrier granted the request, but said they had no visual on the plane.

The pictures in this post were taken in 1990, when a US Air Force (USAF) B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber was five miles out from USS Ranger (CV-61) and asked permission to do a fly-by. The carrier granted the request, but said they had no visual on the plane. The B-52 told them to look down, and then flew past the Independence below the flight deck level.

The story went as follows.

Two B-52s called the USS Ranger and asked if they could do a fly-by, and the carrier air controller said yes.

When the B-52s reported they were 9 kilometers out, the carrier controller said he didn’t see them. The B-52s told the carrier folks to look down.

B-52 Pilot: “Ranger, we’re 5 miles out.”

USS Ranger: “We do not have visual…”

B-52 Pilot: “Look down”

According to The Tailhook Association website, the B-52 paint scheme made it hard to see from above, but as it got closer, the sailors could make it out, and the water the B-52 jets were causing to spray out.

As we have already explained B-52s usually practiced low level flights during Cold War years to come in under Soviet radar. In this case, the B-52 pilots asked the carrier controller if they would like the bombers come around again. The carrier guys said yes, and a lot more sailors had their cameras out this time.

Although it’s very rare for a USAF aircraft to do a fly-by below the flight deck of a carrier, it’s not rare seeing B-52s doing low fly-bys over US Navy flattops.

In the winter of 1981 in fact, two Guam-based B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers performed a low fly-by over USS Midway (CV-41) aircraft carrier.

This print is available in multiple sizes from Aircraftprofileprints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-52H Stratofortress 2nd BW, 20th BS, LA/60-0008 “Lucky Lady IV”.

Note: although one of the photos features an F-14 with tail markings from VF-154 and an E-2C with tail markings from VAW-115 parked on the flight deck with NK in the tail of the aircraft at the time not assigned to USS Ranger, the carrier in the photos is definetely the USS Ranger.

As one of the readers of The Aviation Geek Club explained: “Top photo is definitely Ranger CV-61. As for as CAG-5 or CVW-5, they were not deployed on Independence until August 1991 after Indy relieved Midway. I was ship’s company on Indy from 1989-1992 and I definitely do not remember ever seeing or hearing of this happening.”

Another added: “VF-154 didn’t joking CAG-5 until 1991/1992. NK is the tail letters for CVW-14. Judging by the few aircraft on the flight deck this looks like a 2 week carrier quals. During carrier quals the squadrons will go to whatever carrier is available not necessarily the one they deploy on.”

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • The carrier in the picture is the USS Ranger CV-61. Is the photograph altered? VF-154 didn’t joking CAG-5 until 1991/1992. NK is the tail letters for CVW-14. Judging by the few aircraft on the flight deck this looks like a 2 week carrier quals. During carrier quals the squadrons will go to whatever carrier is available not necessarily the one they deploy on. I was stationed on the Saratoga CV-60 so I have experience in this. Unless the picture with the carrier in it is photoshopped that’s the Ranger not the Independence.

  • Top photo is definitely Ranger CV-61. As for as CAG-5 or CVW-5, they were not deployed on Independence until August 1991 after Indy relieved Midway. I was ship’s company on Indy from 1989-1992 and I definitely do not remember ever seeing or hearing of this happening.

  • Awesome pic of what these B52 pilots trained for in SAC. In the article there is an add to buy a print of a B52 and its "Lucky Lady lV".
    My father was pilot of Lucky Lady II, first plane/pilot to fly around the world non-stop, 1949. Anyone know how or if Lucky Lady Ii and IV are linked. My father went on to fly B52"s, and wonder if he kept naming his planes Lucky Lady

  • I can attest to the accuracy of this story. It was the USS Ranger. I was the Maintenance Material Control Officer for VMA(AW)-121. I watched this awesome fly by from the flight deck. As it went by the ship, I only saw the tail above the deck. Crazy. Took a long time for the B-52 to slowly gain enough altitude after the fly-by to begin a slow turn away from the ship.

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