Has there ever been a pilot who was caught and penalised for performing a "circus stunt fly-by" next to a control tower?

To clarify the question:

  • I mean legal actions took place; for example arrested, license revoked, attended a court martial (if the person is in military service)
  • the action must have been unapproved, possibly illegal. Pre-arranged fly-bys, such as air-shows, or the ones used to film Top Gun, do not count.
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    $\begingroup$ For others coming from hot network questions and confused, to buzz means to fly an aircraft very low over (an object): to buzz a ship. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ I can only think of Tom Cruise. $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if it would be considered "buzzing the tower" or that the pilot was "penalized" in the way you intend, but this crash was partially due to the pilot's wanting to show off to the control tower. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry for using up a comment, but someone has to do this. OK, me then. "Negative Ghostrider. The pattern is full". $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 5:25

3 Answers 3


Well, there's always someone.In January 1954, American TV and Radio personality Arthur Godfrey buzzed the Teterboro control tower with his Douglas DC-3, resulting in the suspension of his license:

In the mid 1950’s, Arthur Godfrey was preparing to take off from Teterboro Airport in his private DC-3. He requested a take off on a runway which was into the wind. The tower refused his request and instructed him to use a runway which had a sizeable crosswind. He complied, but he buzzed the tower, almost running into it. The tower personnel dove for cover and reported him. After a long hassle, Godfrey had his license suspended for six months.

And he wrote a song about it.

Back then, you lost your license. If you try that stunt now, your chances of ending up in a black site are frighteningly real, as Shaun Lees, an amateur pilot found out:

... (Lees) chartered the helicopter from another airport, landed at Coventry, where his actions effectively closed it down, then flew toward the control tower.

Hovering close to it, he announced over the radio, "you are going to see the very worst of my flying", then started to circle.

He got sent to the jail for three years, with

... Judge Marten Coates told Shaun Lees, a 41-year-old electrician, what he had done was "practically an act of terrorism".

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    $\begingroup$ The 'black site' part seems rather like an exaggeration, but that particular case also seems like a bit more than just buzzing the tower. His radio announcement sounds rather like a threat, especially when made while circling the tower. I rather doubt the same punishment would be given (or even the same laws would be violated) if he had done something more like in Godfrey's situation. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ He requested a take off on a runway, which was into the wind. The tower refused his request and instructed him to use a runway, which had a sizeable crosswind. what a confusing sentence $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Azor-Ahai: not to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, they don't really have a sense of humour in Coventry. Anyone who's used their ring road will testify to that. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ The confusing part is not the content of the sentences but their punctuation and structure. It would read much more clearly if the two commas were removed, or if the indefinite articles were changed, as in "...one runway, which was into the wind...another runway, which had...". $\endgroup$
    – amalloy
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 17:49

Not a control tower, but how about the press box of a university football stadium... while a game was being played.

During the University of Florida vs. Kentucky football game in November, 1985 a B-25 buzzed the field.

SUN 11/24/1985 HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section 3, Page 16, 2 STAR Edition

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A World War II-era bomber that buzzed a stadium during a university football game was making its final flight before being turned over to Smithsonian Institution, its owner and pilot says.
"It was a perfect day. We had made several passes in the country, and the airplane felt good," John Marshall said.
"It was a last hurrah - the airplane is going to the Smithsonian. She had a good home in Florida, and we wanted to say good-bye."
Marshall, a radiologist who lives in Ocala, could lose his pilot's license and be fined $1,000 for buzzing Florida Field, where 72,000 were attending the Florida-Kentucky game.
The pilot acknowledged that he violated a Federal Aviation Administration regulation that requires planes to maintain a 1,000-foot altitude when flying above a crowd. But he said there was "no malicious intent" involved. The B-25, named "Carol Jean," which appeared in the movie "Catch- 22" as "Luscious Lulu," was received eagerly by officials at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.
"We have long been searching for a B-25. We've been purposely holding back to find a good one," said Tim Wooldridge, the museum's aeronautics department chairman.

Edit now that I've got my 2 accounts merged... I was there at the game. It was AWESOME! I was down closer to the field, so I'm not sure if they actually got below the edge of the stadium or below the roof line of the pressbox/skybox (The Swamp was much smaller then). A former coworker (now dead for 10 years...) claimed to have been in the plane as a passenger and that they were below the level of the press box and actually dipped down into the "bowl" of the field, but I doubt the truth of those statements.

  • $\begingroup$ So was he fined or what? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 0:45

Probably not what you are looking for, but Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock beat-up the Houses of Parliament and flew under Tower Bridge in London in 1968. He also 'visited' a number of RAF airfields at low level and inverted. He was arrested, put on a charge and invalided out of the RAF rather than court martialed


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