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

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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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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).

    • 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

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