Has an aircraft carrier ever assisted a civilian passenger flight? I am trying to find an example of this. It could be as extreme as a small plane landing on aircraft carrier in an emergency. A simpler example would be a civilian passenger plane requesting navigational assistance from an aircraft carrier over VHF communications.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, we had a "small plane land on an aircraft carrier" question just recently: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/33170/… $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ In your scenario the pilot would ask either ATC on the assigned frequencies, or call on emergency frequencies not attributed to a specific aircraft or ship when ATC is not reachable. As the pilot cannot know what are the radio frequencies used by carriers, or where are carriers located, they cannot ask carriers assistance, or know that some ship is within radio range. Maybe also look at ETOPS. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ @GregHewgill I think it's a duplicate of that question but this is worded a lot better. $\endgroup$
    – Notts90
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ @mins I believe you are correct but it does not preclude my question. If a passenger flight had failures of satellite and HF communications over the Pacific, the pilot would use VHF on emergency frequencies to request assistance from anyone. $\endgroup$
    – Eric Urban
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Has an unauthorized civilian ever tried to land on an aircraft carrier? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 5:19

1 Answer 1


It has happened before.

There are definite cases of light civilian aircraft landing on a carrier, the most well known was in April 1975 when South Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang Lee landed an O-1 Bird Dog on the deck of the USS Midway trying to escape with his wife and 5 children from the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces.

Landing aboard an aircraft carrier presents several difficulties, namely limited landing roll and available deck space. A Nimitz Class carrier is just shy of 1100 feet in total length and 250 ft at its widest point. The designated landing area or LA is approx 75 x 650 ft. The ship is capable of steaming at 30+ kts so it can develop quite a bit of wind over the flight deck reducing the effective unarrested landing roll.

Then you need to stop the aircraft once it's on the deck. Carrier based fixed wing jets use tailhooks designed to work with the arresting gear and reduce the landing roll to about 330 feet.

The largest carrier aircraft in service were the Douglas A-3 and the Grumman C-2 and E-2, each one about the size of a regional jet. The largest aircraft which I am aware of which made a successful unarrested landing was a Lockheed C-130.

Large commercial aircraft like a Boeing 747 or an Airbus A-380 simply cannot fit on the deck without the wings clipping the island or other deck antennas, etc, not to mention requiring landing rolls of over 3000 ft even in the most extreme short field attempts.

So HAS a carrier aided a civilian passenger flight via recovery operations? Yes but only with small aircraft. COULD a carrier aid in recovering larger commercial aircraft? Possible depending on the size of the aircraft, its loadout and fuel state and performance capabilities.

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    $\begingroup$ It should be noted that the O-1 was not much of a civilian plane (technically). The O-1 is a Cessna L-19/305 for military use not much bigger than a C-170 except it had a big engine (213hp), it was stolen by the Major to defect. It cost $10m in lost equipment for that carrier landing by Maj. Buang. Most (US) carriers also have a "crash net" that can stop pretty much anything that can fit on the deck. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ You're not stopping a 747 with a carrier barricade. That's not gonna happen. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ No, but it won't fit on the deck either... $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 16:31

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