Buzzing the Deck

Maverick: Mustang, this is Ghost Rider, requesting flyby.
Air Controller: Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.
Goose: No, no, Mav, this is not a good idea.
Maverick: Sorry, Goose, but it's time to buzz the tower.
Top Gun

Also known as a "buzz job," this is when a pilot, or someone who can fly somehow, makes a fast pass very low to the ground or close to a target with the intent to startle or frighten. This is generally very dangerous; planes are meant to be in the sky, where pilots have room to take action if something should go wrong. Low altitude means there is less time to do something in the event of emergency, and in this case the ground is at times less than a second away. Also, the lower you are, the more likely there are to be obstacles sticking up from the ground. So while this can be Truth in Television, Buzzing The Deck in Real Life (presuming you don't crash) will likely get you Reassigned to Antarctica.

There are usually two reasons why someone would do this:

The effects on the ground are dramatic. Planes are loud, and one flying right overhead is enough to make most people jump, and perhaps duck. Add to that, when traveling at speed they can be on top of you before you hear them coming.

A pilot can also do this in flight to another aircraft by flying very close past it.

Compare Wronski Feint, which is an even riskier move to get an enemy to fly into the ground or other obstacle, and Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure for when a low pass is to attack a target on the ground.

Not to be confused with a Traumatic Haircut, which is sometimes called a "buzz cut" (or "buzz job").


Anime and Manga
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. In 2nd Gig an American Empire nuclear submarine launches a nuclear missile that's destroyed before it hits the target. The Americans are wondering if they should fire again when two advanced Japanese fighters fly (sideways!) on either side of their conning tower. Getting the message, the Americans stand down.

Comic Books
  • Buck Danny: In one episode set during the Korean War, a South Korean pilot does this upside down in full view of senior officers before landing safely but walking drunkenly, to the concern of his friends in the American squadron. It turns out the North Koreans are holding his family hostage, and have threatened to kill them if he doesn't obey their orders. He pulled the stunt so as to be barred from flying , but the spies figure out his plan and force him to betray the Americans. As usual for the series, it ends with Redemption Equals Death.

Fan Fic
  • In Mutant Storm, the X-Men (Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast and Wolverine) are trying to get into a Death Eater safehouse, which has two of Voldemort's Horcruxes, the snake included. Harry, who is piloting the Blackbird, suggests buzzing them with a low level pass at supersonic speed. And it works beautifully (the house is left with all windows broken, the roof burning and the front as if sandblasted). Rogue then uses the second Blackbird to do the same on the Death Eaters that are attacking Hogwarts.
  • Weaponized in In The Service, where the shockwave of a fifteen-thousand-ton starship moving at supersonic speeds close to the ground is powerful enough to throw people through the air and break bones as it knocks them down, in addition to breaking every eardrum for kilometers. While less thoroughly destructive than the use of the ship's guns, it works over a larger area and does so more quickly.

  • Top Gun: Maverick has a history of doing these over control towers, and one admiral's daughter. In the course of the film he does it twice more, both times causing the controller to spill coffee on himself.
  • Thirteen Days: A pair of fighter jets are seen buzzing a Soviet freighter that made it past the Naval Blockade around Cuba.
  • Dumbo ends with him showing off his new abilities by flying low over the heads of everyone who harassed and made fun of him.
  • The Final Countdown: After the USS Nimitz gets thrown back to 1941, a pair of Tomcats start "playing with" a pair of Zeros, starting with speeding by them so close the Japanese planes are thrown around by their wakes.
  • Aladdin: While the Sultan is flying the magic carpet around, he at one point flies quickly over Aladdin and Jafar, causing both of them to duck as he does.
  • The John Wayne film The Wings of Eagles has Wayne, as "Spig" Wead, buzzing a boat with his ground crew who are trying to tell him to land, and then doing it to a train, causing a couple of railroad workers to fall off.
  • In the opening scene of The Rocketeer Cliff buzzes a road which happens to have a shooting chase between mobsters and the police. One of the mobsters sees the plane and shoots at it, damaging its engine and controls.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: After finding that the Millenium Falcon's hyperdrive is still inoperable, Han Solo turns around and flies right at the Star Destroyer chasing them, buzzing the ship's bridge, making the captain and first officer duck, and then disappearing (actually clamping onto the back of the ship's command tower).
  • The Great Waldo Pepper: The German ace Ernst Kessler starts his air performance with an upside down low pass that causes the announcer to fall over. Later after Ezra crashes, Waldo, furious at the crowds who came to gawk but did nothing to help, gets in a plane and starts buzzing them to drive them away from the wreckage.
  • The Great Raid: Used as a way of distracting the guards while Allied forces got into position.
  • The Red Baron begins with Richtofen and his wing buzzing the funeral of a British pilot so he could drop a memorial wreath.
  • At the end of *batteries not included, Harry has Little Guy and won't let him go, and the parents keep zipping over their heads until he does.
  • In This Island Earth, Cal buzzes the flight tower, which ends up causing a flame out, leading to his first encounter with the aliens. When this scene shows up in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, Crow promptly responds to the buzzing scene with "MAVERICK!"... with Tom Servo following that up with air sickness.
  • Captains of the Clouds (1942). In revenge for being washed out, James Cagney's character does this in a bush plane, interrupting an Air Marshall as he gives a graduation speech to the pilots. However his wingman blacks out during the stunt and is killed.
  • Spaceballs. Lone Star in his spaceship to the chapel where Princess Vespa is about to have an Arranged Marriage, as his Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace.
    Minister: We are here to join these two together in holy—MOLY!!
  • Sort of in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, as Lt. Lawson isn't trying to scare anybody with his B-25 bomber. But he does fly it under the San Francisco Bay Bridge on a dare.
  • The Peanuts Movie: The Red Baron buzzes Flying Ace Snoopy's root beer party, leaving his face covered in root beer foam.

  • In Star Carrier: Earth Strike, a group of Starhawks make a low-altitude, high-speed pass over the airstrip at the Marine base on Haris, using the noise from their sonic booms and from firing their particle beams at a far-off hilltop to quell a riot.
  • From the Jack Ryan series:
    • In The Hunt for Red October, a flight of A-10s buzz (and drop flares around) a Soviet cruiser to remind the Soviets that they were a long way from both home and any serious hope of support if they didn't take a step back.
    • In Executive Orders, US B-1 bombers buzz an Indian aircraft carrier at near-supersonic speeds, causing damage to the superstructure of some Indian Navy warships, as a warning to their Prime Minister that she's playing with fire in her dealings with Iran and China in opposition to the US.
    • Outside the series, in Red Storm Rising Major Amelia Nakamura does this after making ace.
  • Happens frequently in Derek Robinson's Battle of Britain air novel, A Piece of Cake.
    • One pilot buzzes ships on a French canal, forcing a barge to crash and a smaller boat to capsize. this is so that he can perform the feat of flying underneath a bridge, with feet to spare on all sides. He boasts about this and browbeats another pilot into doing the same. Unfortunately it has rained a lot since the successful feat and the river level has risen. so when the second pilot attempts to fly under the bridge...
    • Later in the book, an officious Desk Jockey has his car repeatedly buzzed by the same pilot, overturns it, and is killed in the crash.
  • One of the few black marks on Honor Harrington's record as a cadet came from an incident where she buzzed the Commodore's yacht during the annual academy regatta.
  • In John Winton's 1967 novel HMS Leviathan, about a troubled aircraft carrier, a mentally unstable misfit pilot buzzes the conning tower several times seeking to pluck up the nerve to commit suicide by crashing into it, so as to take the ship's hated senior officers with him. He badly botches his suicde and after he goes kamikazi, the ship needs emergency refit.

Live-Action TV
  • The Mythbusters' attempts to shatter glass with a sonic boom culminated with Adam going up with one of the Blue Angels and, after being taken on a wild thrill ride, making a series of supersonic passes over a shed they'd set up in the desert with a glass window, each one lower than the last. After a number of passes at a reasonable altitude, Adam was dropped off and the pilot went back up to make another series at a dangerously low level. They did finally get the glass to break, but the plane was practically flying on the deck at that point.
  • In the 1995 HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen, an airman is discharged for this, and commits suicide as a result.

  • Pioneer TV broadcaster and aviation enthusiast Arthur Godfrey got his ticket yanked for six months after he buzzed the control tower at Teterboro, New Jersey, in January 1954. Reportedly he was peeved because Air Traffic Control refused to give him permission to use the runway he requested. The unrepentant Godfrey later recorded and released the satirical "Teterboro Tower", a wildly exaggerated account of the incident set to the tune of "Wabash Cannonball".

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40K. Orks are well known for this, it's how they land (landing gear is for sissies). Deff Skwadron takes this a little further than most: When their entire skwadron is undergoing maintenance when they're needed in a fight, they simply turn the planes into impromptu jetbikes.

Video Games

Western Animation
  • This training cartoon tries to illustrate one possible result of trying this.
  • TaleSpin.
    • Baloo is known to do this literally, using his propeller to trim hedges at times, as seen in the show's opening, upside-down, no less.
    • Baloo got buzzed himself once in flight and was not happy about it, especially when he found out who he'd just been buzzed by, Ace London.
  • While Tom Cat is joyriding on the witch's broom in the Tom and Jerry cartoon "The Flying Sorceress", he flies past the window of the house where Jerry is contentedly eating a hunk of cheese. Tom's first buzz causes Jerry to blink, but dismiss the sight as an aberration. Tom's second buzz causes Jerry to discard his cheese as "bad."
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
    • In the episode "Secret of my Excess", the Wonderbolts do this to an out-of-control Spike. This gives him a buzzcut.
    • Used in "Newbie Dash" as part of the Wonderbolts airshow.

Real Life
  • Buzz numbers were large, easily legible markings put on aircraft to identify aircraft, and pilots, guilty of buzzing populated areas.
  • At one point during Blue Angels shows the audience will be focused on the main group, while the two solo jets each make a low pass right over them, demonstrating how the F-18 Hornet can be on top of a target before they hear them.
  • A story is told of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper doing this and terrifying the flight director so badly when arriving at Cape Kennedy prior to his Faith 7 launch that he only narrowly avoided getting bumped off the flight altogether.
  • Alexander Bonnyman was a marine who initially joined the Army Air Corps, but washed out after buzzing too many towers.
  • If you want to know who was buzzing the tower in Top Gun, it was this guy, Scott Altman, Navy Captain and astronaut. He noted in an interview once that buzzing a control tower would usually cost a pilot his wings, but since the director wanted nine different takes of that scene, he got to buzz the tower nine times!
  • Used as a diversion in World War II. At the start of the raid on the Cabanatuan prison camp, an allied plane repeatedly buzzed the guard towers to distract the sentries while the raiding force crawled across an open field to the front gate. This was recreated in the film, The Great Raid.
  • A British RAF pilot did this to a highway in Scotland with a Hercules transport plane in June 2012.
  • In the book Flak by Michael Veitch, an Australian WW2 pilot in training buzzed his own house so low he could see a member of the Observer Corp taking down his aircraft number. To avoid a court martial he had to land his aircraft, race back home, sneak into the OC hut while it was unmanned and steal the log entry.
  • Similarly, in the book Wreaking Havoc, Joseph Rutter relates an account where during training, he had the rare opportunity to go for a flight in a new plane that had not yet had its buzz numbers painted on (once past a certain point in their training, pilots were left to fly solo whenever they could in order to gain familiarity with the aircraft and get the required number of flight hours). He decided to buzz a parade ground at an infantry school graduation ceremony, and made a point to fly away in the direction of a different airfield before returning to his own base.
  • During the Battle off Samar, many of the American aircraft lacked the armor-piercing bombs necessary to damage the heavily armored Japanese warships they faced, having been equipped to provide air support to Marines fighting ashore. Hoping to buy time for their ships to escape, the aviators attacked the battleships and heavy cruisers with rockets, fragmentary bombs, and machine guns, before making aggressive unarmed passes once they had run out of ammo, in order to distract and frazzle the Japanese crews.
    • It worked better then expected. These actions, combined with a few erroneous Torpedoes, forced the Battleship Yamato to withdraw from the fight, and was ultimately a contributing factor in the decision to withdraw the entire Center Force from the fight.
  • There's a famous aerial photograph from WWII where the occupants of an allegedly nudist beach, sick of being constantly buzzed by horny flyboys, have spelled out "REPORTING YOU" with their beach towels.
  • There are lots of dashboard camera clips on YouTube showing airplanes and helicopters intentionally or unintentionally buzzing roadways.
  • This by WWII Japanese fighter ace Saburo Sakai(from his wiki page) "On the night of 16 May, Sakai and his colleagues, Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Toshio Ota, were listening to a broadcast of an Australian radio program, when Nishizawa recognized the eerie "Danse Macabre" of Camille Saint-Saëns. Inspired by this, Nishizawa came up with the idea of doing demonstration loops over the enemy airfield. The next day, his squadron included fellow aces Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Toshio Ōta. At the end of an attack on Port Moresby that involved 18 Zeros,[10] the trio performed three tight loops in close formation over the allied air base. Nishizawa indicated he wanted to repeat the performance. Diving to 6,000 ft (1,800 m), the three Zeros did three more loops, without receiving any AA fire from the ground. The following day, a lone Allied bomber came roaring over the Lae airfield and dropped a note attached to a long ribbon of cloth. The soldiers picked up the note and delivered to the squadron commander. It read "Thank you for the wonderful display of aerobatics by three of your pilots. Please pass on our regards and inform them, that we will have a warm reception ready for them, next time they fly over our airfield". The squadron commander was furious and reprimanded the three pilots for their stupidity, but the Tainan Kōkūtai's three leading aces felt Nishizawa's aerial choreography of the "Danse Macabre" had been worth it."
  • As plane-spotters or people who live close to airports can tell you, a milder version of this trope can often take place when under certain wind conditions aircraft must take off from a runway usually used to land... causing them to fly over houses when they're still climbing with their engines at full throttle. Even if they already are at a height of several hundred feet, if not more, the effect is quite dramatic -and twice or more noisier- for big planes as a Boeing 747 or an Airbus A340note .
  • In his autobiography At War In A Stringbag, Charles Lamb reports fighting alongside a Swordfish biplane torpedo bomber pilot who believed in getting in really low when attacking Axis shipping. This pilot's exploits included dropping his torpedo, then flying past the enemy ship's stern below the level of the deck so as to be able to read its name and home port for his after-combat report. Once this particular pilot flew so near the sea that his arrester hook and fixed rear wheel were skimming in the waves; Lamb looked on with horror, sure his wingmate was about to crash. But he survived. note 
  • A buzz job done wrong is what killed Randy Rhoads; the pilot of the plane, who was also the tour bus driver, had decided to take him and a makeup artist a ride, and he started buzzing the bus where Ozzy, and some other people, were still sleeping. In the third buzz, he ended up hitting with a wing against the bus, which sent the jet careening out of control into a garage nearby, killing everyone. Later it was found out that the pilot had been tested positive for cocaine.
  • One pilot had a long track record of doing this in his B-52. It caught up with him in an airshow practice where he made a tight turn at low altitude. (Warning: video NSFW.)
  • There's a military story that involved an SR-71 Blackbird doing this, per the request of a visiting commander with a bunch of rookies, which he believed would inspire them. SR-71's are not designed to do this, but the pilots obliged anyway (accidentally coming much closer to the ground than they intended, though they didn't share that with their superiors). Reportedly, the plane's buzzing knocked a few of the recruits clean off their feet, and this was an SR-71 going as slowly as possible.
  • After gaining his pilot's license, Frederick Forsyth buzzed the house of his former headmaster in a Tiger Moth in an act of petty revenge on his boarding school.
  • There's a beach in the Caribbean that's now become a tourist attraction thanks to this trope.
  • In 2006, WestJet gave a tribute to their outgoing 737-200s by buzzing the tower ("Go as low as you want, just don't hit anything"), followed by a high angle climb. The kicker is from the pilot of another plane.
    Air Canada: (official-sounding voice) Tower, this is Air Canada 865, can I do that?

Alternative Title(s): Buzz Job, Buzzing The Tower