Extremely rare: U.S. Navy plane lands on snow-covered aircraft carrier’s flight deck

Jan 25 2014 - 12 Comments

Arrested landings on the moving flight deck on an aircraft carrier can be extremely tricky in several conditions.

At night, when the horizon is not clearly visible and pilots have almost no visual reference until they are on short final. In bad weather, especially when there are low clouds, thunderstorms, fog, etc. Or during a snow storm, when the flightdeck is covered and made slippery by snow.

The photograph in this post is one of the few you can find online showing an aircraft landing on a snow-covered flattop’s deck.

It was taken on Jan. 21, 1987, and it depicts an A-6E Intruder of Attack Squadron (VA) 52 on final approach for recovery on the snow-covered flight deck of USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) operating in the Bering Sea.

Image credit: U.S. Navy


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  • Cool photo. I see some F-14 Tomcats on the left hand side of the photo. Tomcat The Grumman F-14 Story had a good photo of an F-14 landing on a snow covered deck. See http://www.amazon.com/Tomcat-Grumman-Paul-T-Gillcrist/dp/0887406645/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390678435&sr=1-1&keywords=tomcat+the+grumman+f-14+story
    Anyone know where I can find a bigger resolution copy of this photo of the A-6E landing?

  • mt noise

    That was when Admiral James Lyons was CinCPAC and had a habit of sending his carriers to train off the Petropavlovsk in full radio/radar silence. Usually without the Soviets finding out they were there until it was too late. They would do reciprocal strikes (full loadouts at the distance to the targets but at a 180 degrees).

  • Gio

    How to they maintain those gridlines in the snow? Is the deck heated somehow?

    • Ray Stallings

      The “gridlines” as you call them are nothing more the frames supporting the flight deck. They are warm due to the heating in the workspaces below deck and have melted some of the ice on the flight deck.

  • michael

    Carriers are amazing!

  • Ray Stallings

    This is a picture of me and my B/N landing on the USS Carl Vinson in 1987 in the Bering Sea.

    We were launched early in the morning to do a weather recon. They shot
    us off the pointy end with more airframe icing than I had ever seen
    on an aircraft. During our preflight, I called the Air Boss to discuss
    this with him and his answer was, “We will just give you a few extra
    knots of end speed, man up your aircraft.” I anticipated that we would be very close to stall AOA
    when they shot us (the needle initially pegged) so I was prepared to
    nurse it until we slowly accelerated and started our ascent.

    We pickup up a considerable amount of icing during our climb-out. The tops were above
    20,000 feet if I recall correctly. We stayed above the clouds for close
    to an hour while the ice sublimated from the airframe. We then did a
    high speed penetration with the speedbrakes fully extended to descend
    below the icing as quickly as possible to a Case 3 recovery.

    remember breaking out of the clouds and not seeing anything other than a
    completely white flight deck. You could not see a defined landing
    area. The only guidance for lineup was the faint strobe of the
    centerline lighting sparkling through the ice on the flight deck. We
    recovered on our first pass and flight ops were ceased for the remainder
    of the day. I’m not certain but I think this might have been the only
    time on our 1986 Cruise that our Airwing had one event on the flight schedule
    for the day.

    • cencio4

      Hi Ray,

      thank you for your memories!
      Let me know if you want to recall other interesting stories for our readers.


    • I have swept snow from a deck along time before that on Independence in the Norwegian Sea in 1975. It was not that deep and we did it before flight ops got underway.

  • Ray Stallings

    And, by the way, that is 3-4″ thick ice not snow on the deck.

  • jetcal1

    BTW, who is that standing by 112? That is a big no-no. And with frozen ice on the deck, did anybody check to see if they could deploy the barricade stanchions? It doesn’t look to good in that photo.

  • Ferd Salomon

    Very ballsy, Ray. Great story… I was flying P-3’s out of Adak at that same time and would often come back to land with a totally iced runway. We would use all 8,000 feet of the runway getting the beast to stop. No braking just reverse pitch on the props. I flew C-2’s later and collected a few traps…

  • dbarak

    I was on that cruise, VS-29 SENSO. Cold! I think that’s the cruise where seven guys got swept off an elevator at the hangar deck – all recovered thankfully.

    I had a chance to go out on Vinson for three days in September 2011. Our ready room, Ready 4, had been assigned to HS-15, with only a few big changes made over the preceding 24 years. I managed to score a three hour plane guard flight. Nice to fly off the Chucky V’s flight deck again, even if it wasn’t a cat shot.