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.

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").


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

  • Arthur Godfrey, a pioneer TV broadcaster and aviation enthusiast, got his ticket yanked for six months after he buzzed the 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. 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
  • 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."

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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s):

Buzz Job, Buzzing The Tower