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Belly-Scraping Flight

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A classic "close call" for flyers, vehicular or otherwise, is to have them just barely clip the roof of a building, the crowns of trees, or some loose gravel on a mountaintop as they're crossing a ridge, taking off from a short runway, or pulling out of a dive. The slight impact may have no consequences but drama, or it might damage an aircraft's fuselage or (to set up for more trouble later) its landing gear.

Usually happens when the flyer is diving or taking off, although this trope can also occur in mid-flight to show that a flyer is dangerously overloaded or losing too much altitude. Also commonly seen during emergency landings, to show how narrowly the flyer avoids crashing head-on into a building or similar obstacle.

One of the many hazards of being an Acrophobic Bird. May occur while Buzzing the Deck, or engaging in a Wronski Feint or Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure. If a flyer's underbelly gets clipped because something huge on the ground reared up to strike it, that's Helicopter Flyswatter. See also Low Clearance.



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    Comic Books 
  • One Buck Danny Asian story has a local pilot not only do this in full view of various generals but do it upside down, then emerge from the cabin reeking of booze. It's an act (so to speak): He's trying to get himself taken off piloting duties because his family is being held hostage by the enemy if he doesn't perform certain acts of sabotage. Unfortunately, it's all for naught, and the story ends with Death Equals Redemption as usual.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Wind in the Willows segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad ends with Toad taking up airplane flying. His plane first clips the roof of Toad Hall, startling Rat, Mole and Badger, then as he flies into the sunset, knocks over the statue of Admiral Nelson over Trafalgar Square.
  • Used in the third Curious George film, when Ted's seaplane goes over a waterfall. George manages to pull the plane out of its dive just in time to avert a crash, although its pontoon skims the water briefly.
  • In Despicable Me 3, when an upside-down Bratt is carried away by a giant gum bubble at the end, his head thumps the edge of a billboard in transit.
  • Lightyear has one that turns out to be more significant than most; as Buzz is attempting to launch the Turnip, the alien vines native to that planet cause it to take off at a low angle. Buzz tries to fly it manually, but the ship scrapes the edge of the cliff they'd been trying to clear. This damages the ship's drive which causes them to come crashing back down, and strands them on that planet.
  • In a deleted scene from Lilo & Stitch, the protagonists (apart from Lilo) scrape the side of a skyscraper with their landing gear in a hijacked 747 during an extremely tight turn. After 9/11, the scene was scrapped for obvious reasons. The airliner was changed to a Space Plane, and downtown Honolulu replaced with a canyon. The spaceship still makes a tight turn extremely close to the ground, just low enough to knock a relaxing tourist's ice cream cone out of his hand with its wingtip.
  • In The Polar Express, the dirigible which carries the gigantic bag of presents to Santa's sleigh drops its altitude a bit too early. The very bottom of the bag just scrapes the very tip of the star on top of the Christmas tree, sending it plummeting toward the ground. Santa's helpers are lucky that the airship carries a highly-trained cadre of skydivers for just such an occasion.
  • In Rio, Linda and Tulio drive a Carnival float onto the runway where the bird smugglers' plane is taking off. The plane gets into the air just in time, but its fuselage still destroys the upper part of the float. Later, Blu and an injured Jewel fall out of the plane over the bay, and Blu manages to get his wings out just in time to pull up — skimming Jewel's chest across the water — before they hit the surface.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Done to death in 2012, most notably when Sasha pulls up and avoids the roof of a collapsing Las Vegas casino ... only to clip the tower of another casino.
  • In Airplane!, a disco radio-station's aerial gets sliced off a skyscraper rooftop as the airliner comes into Chicago.
  • A face-scraping flight occurs in Alice in Wonderland (2010), when Tweedledee and Tweedledum are carried off by the Jubjub Bird. They're very fat, which may account for why it just barely avoids crashing into a thicket of trees and the dead branches batter the ankle-held twins' dangling heads.
  • In Alien: Covenant, the cargo-lifter knocks the head off a tremendous Engineer statue when Tennessee nearly crashes due to the crane swinging around to grab a Xenomorph and throwing the VTOL vehicle off-balance.
  • Always centers around aerial firefighters who have to make dives at burning forests to deliver their payloads of water or flame retardant, quite often brushing the tops of trees as they do. A notable instance is when Pete makes a daring attempt to put out a fire in Al's engine, which takes him below the burning treeline before he can pull out. When he does he realizes his plane is on fire seconds before it explodes. Later Dorinda gets in a plane and sets out on a fire bombing run herself, despite not being qualified for them. The sound of treetops hitting the plane can be heard as she flies into the fire zone.
  • In Battleship, a helicopter tries to vertically evade an oncoming shredder drone, lifting off with so little time to spare that the drone's spinning spikes carve a series of grooves in its undercarriage.
  • The Dambusters: In order for the "bouncing bomb" to work, the bombers have to fly at just sixty feet above the surface of the reservoir, so this trope is something of an occupational hazard. On one occasion a crew finds a number of tree branches wedged in the lower fuselage from where they cut their approach to the practice target a bit too fine.
  • In Elf, Santa's sleigh loses its booster rocket when it clips a statue on takeoff.
  • Everest (2015) ends with a chopper flight off the mountain which has them brushing quite a few snow drifts with their skids, as the flight is more a controlled fall until they get to air thick enough for it to actually fly in.
  • Flight: Moments before it hits the ground, the crash-landing airliner clips the very tip off a church steeple with one wing, all while the pilots look back in Stunned Silence.
  • In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Bard shoots Smaug in the heart as the dragon is flying in to attack the bowman's aerie in the Laketown bell tower. Mortally wounded, the dragon's onrush veers off-course, and his body grazes the tower as he crashes into the lake.
  • Midway:
    • Occurs when Best is about to take off on a routine patrol, but realizes Enterprise doesn't have enough speed, meaning he doesn't have enough airspeed to get airborne. As it is, he barely manages to get by just getting the belly of his plane wet before managing to pull up and away, and the only reason he doesn't crash is because he's just that good. His wingman isn't that skilled or that fortunate.
    • Later, after bombing the Hiryu, Best pulls his SBD into a sharp climb, his wingtip dipping into the ocean as he pulls out.
  • Happens a few times to Jack's aircraft in Oblivion (2013), sometimes with its belly scraping the side of a canyon because it's capable of flying in several different orientations.
  • In Outbreak, McClintock's helicopter dips its skids in the water when it passes under the bridge during the chase along the river.
  • Invoked as a combat tactic by Otachi in Pacific Rim, when she hauled Gipsy Danger off the streets of Hong Kong and slammed the Jaeger into one building's rooftop, then dragged the Humongous Mecha brutally across another.
  • The ship Hook and Peter steal in Pan does a belly-scraping-belly flight when it turns upside-down to avoid colliding with another flying pirate ship. Their keels skim across one another, after which the stolen ship rights itself and plays this trope straight as it crosses a high wall.
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife: Dirty Coward former film executive Bennett runs away in the plane that Alice used to get to California and the fact that the prison rooftop she landed the plane on is pretty close to the ground means that, once he finally manages to make the plane actually fly, he's close enough to the zombie horde that is besieging the prison to rip several of them to shreds with the propeller.
  • Inverted in San Andreas, when the small boat piloted by the hero is scaling the face of the tsunami, only to have a huge cargo ship's aft end appear at the wave's crest directly in its path. The boat veers off to pass under the cargo ship's stern, and one of the giant vessel's rotors rips the sunshade off the smaller one.
  • A vertical example appears in Sky High (2005), when the school's anti-gravity is sabotaged and it plummets towards the ground. Will, who's underneath trying to slow its fall, is just barely touching the roof of a house with his feet when Magenta restores the anti-gravity.
  • In a variant from Snakes on a Plane, the airliner's near-fatal plunge after its surviving pilot gets bitten comes so close to the ocean's surface that its jets' backwash kicks up huge sprays of water in its wake.
  • At the climax of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the crashing cargo Quinjet's wing slices the top off the Parachute Jump at Coney Island.
  • In Spy Kids, the Cortez siblings' tiny rocket-plane loses a wingtip to a rock formation when their bickering causes a near-collision. Then Juni invokes this trope to take off the other wingtip, so the plane will be balanced.
  • Star Trek Beyond: Happens toward the end as the crew tries to get the nearly century-old USS Franklin airborne, which involves dropping it off a cliff to terminal velocity to get enough momentum for lift up. They scrape the cliff side once or twice on the way down, the tops of some trees when they pull up and brush a few more peaks on their way to orbit.
  • Star Wars: Happens twice to the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens:
    • Rey and Finn are scrambling to board a spacecraft to flee Jakku, which is being overrun by First Order forces. They settle for the "junk" Falcon, and Rey attempts to pilot it while Finn mans one of the gun turrets. It's a bumpy flight as the neglected craft scrapes the ground until Rey gets it under control.
    • Han Solo has to come out of lightspeed inside Starkiller Base's defensive shields in order to sabotage it. This means the Falcon approaches its surface at horrific speed, which clips several trees and results in a belly landing. It's like the Millennium Falcon is a rental the way it's treated.
  • Subverted in Stealth, where the pilot just barely misses a building after recovering from blackout. However, he's going so fast that the wind generated by his plane is still enough to take a piece off the roof.
  • Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo: When the B-25s make their way to the Japanese mainland, they hug the waterline and later the ground, coming close to hitting several treelines in the process.
  • Top Gun: Maverick: At the end, after Maverick and Rooster have stolen an enemy F-14 from the rogue nation the airstrike takes place in, Maverick takes off from a very short taxiway (since the runways are cratered and unusable) that's right up against a pair of large fuel tanks. He gets airborne, but his nose landing gear is sheared off by the crosswalk between the tanks.

  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids: Lucky tries to take a shortcut by skimming through the corona of The Sun.
  • Inverted in Sewer, Gas & Electric, when the eco-pirate submarine Yabba Dabba Doo dives under a massive fishing net while eluding a swarm of torpedoes. The sub clears the barrier by such a narrow margin that, in passing, its sail is struck by the thrashing tail of an ensnared marlin.
  • In a much larger-scale variant, two of the orbiting land-fragments in Michael Reaves' The Shattered World are set on a collision course when the stabilizing Runestone of Darkhaven, the smaller of the two, is stolen. As the stone-generated magic fades and its orbit decays, Darkhaven orbits closer and closer to the populated fragment of Oljaer, eventually smashing the highest towers of Oljaer's royal castle into dust as it rushes across the larger fragment's skies.
  • In Witches Abroad, when Granny Weatherwax steps off a tower roof, her hard-to-start broomstick starts up just barely in time for her to pull up. As it is, her boots plow a double trough in the tops of the rosebushes in the garden below, and she nearly hits a woman who'd been sitting there awaiting a tryst.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "Aliens of London", an alien spacecraft clips Big Ben (and apparently one of the bells inside) before crashing into the Thames. Justified when it's later revealed the aliens were trying to attract as much attention as possible.
  • On Farscape, when the dying leviathan Elack attempts his Heroic Sacrifice power-dive too early, his Pilot attempts to pull up and buy time for their friends to escape the crash zone. She manages to have him veer up in time, but his underbelly scrapes the edge of a stone outcropping at the shore.
  • Game of Thrones. In "The Long Night", Jon Snow ends up flying his dragon so low while pulling out of a dive in the midst of a blizzard, the dragon's wings knock snow off the treetops.
  • This trope splits the tail end of a shuttle apart from the front end on The Orville, separating Dr. Finn from Isaac and her young sons.
  • Happens inadvertently on Scorpion, when the team tries to guide a seaplane in for a landing after a solar storm knocks out its navigation systems. Attempting a landing on inshore waters, the small craft strikes some flotsam and loses one of its twin floats, forcing the joyriding teen in the pilot's seat to frantically pull up before he can hit the coastal cliffs.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Flying Circus, you can have your pilot fly at Altitude 0, which is equivalent to flying just above the ground. Typically, this is a bad idea. Ground effects reduces Stall Speed, the plane hits the ground if it goes any lower, and pulling up from this altitude counts as an attempt to Evade Danger. However, the Dogfighter Mastery move Belly Scrape makes near-ground flight less dangerous.

    Video Games 
  • This happens in the Ace Combat games if you take damage from touching the ground—which is a very rare occurrence, since doing so in all but the most tangential manner spells an instant Game Over.
  • At the end of the first level of Metal Wolf Chaos, Air Force One ends up knocking a chunk of the roof off the Lincoln Memorial after taking off from a secret hanger underneath the Reflecting Pool. It's that kind of game.
  • In the Saints Row games there's a stunt called "Near Crash" which requires you to fly extremely close to a building or the ground. Cut it very close, and this trope will apply.
  • In Surface The Soaring City, you restore the city's flight capabilities just in time to stop it from crushing the settlement below, and its underbelly only knocks down somebody's weathervane.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: In "The Chase", the Gaang is being pursued by Princess Azula following Appa's shedding fur, keeping them from getting sleep to the point that Appa falls asleep in midair. After scrubbing him off, Aang takes a bag of fur in one direction as a decoy while Sokka and Katara go the other way. Appa's still tired though, and clips the tops of some trees as he takes off. When Azula arrives she notices the broken trees and realizes they're trying to throw her off.
  • DC Animated Universe:
    • Weaponized in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Feet Of Clay, Part 1", when Batman interrogates Bell using the Batwing's grapple-arm. He dangles the thug in front of the Batwing while flying just a few feet over the river, dipping Bell's feet in the water.
    • At the climax of the "World's Finest" Batman/Superman crossover on Superman: The Animated Series, Superman intercepts the huge flying-wing plane that Joker stole from Lex Luther just before it can crash head-on into a Metropolis skyscraper. He's able to lift it up and over the top, although it clips the spire on the skyscraper's roof.
  • In the Mickey Mouse short "Plane Crazy", Mickey's plane almost hits a church spire, which ducks out of the way.
  • The Disney Television series TaleSpin episode "On a Wing and a Bear" has Baloo attempt to evade pursuing air pirates by using a "pelican dive." The last time he'd tried it, Baloo submerged the Sea Duck. While a nervous official urges him to reduce speed, Baloo counters: "That's the mistake I made last time, and it stalled my engines. I need more speed!" and muscles the throttles forward. The Sea Duck pulls up, just skimming the sea water; the pirates, however, stall their engines and end up very wet.
  • Played for Laughs on Wild Kratts:
    • When falcon-form Martin rescues falcon-form Chris from a mud wallow where he's mired. Martin swoops in and lifts Chris to safety, but doesn't ascend high enough to avoid dangling his brother's head and wings through the treetops where they're whacked by leafy twigs.
    • In "Wolf Hawks", Martin scoops up Zach while in Harris's-hawk form, using the villain to bait the Zach-bots into an ambush. Flying low to keep the 'bots on the floor of a canyon, he accidentally drags Zach across the tips of some saguaro cacti, causing Zach to howl complaints about getting cactus needles in his behind.
  • In the second Crybaby Clown episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, this happens twice to the villain's escape plane: once when it's pulled out of a power-dive, and again during some crazy mid-fight maneuvers. Luckily the belly is only dipped, not ripped, as both events happen over the ocean.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • In We Were Soldiers Once... And Young by Joe Galloway and Lt. General Hal Moore (Retired), they talked about how the level of training for Air Cavalry troops changed as the intensity of the war in Vietnam escalated. The first units, formed as part of the Army's efforts to develop Air Cavalry doctrine, had trained extensively alongside the helicopter aircrews before deploying. Later units had a much abbreviated training program, in some cases the soldiers' first experience with helicopters being in-country with the aircrews taking them on familiarization flights that would involve skimming treetops with the skids to help the troops get over the shock of the experience.
  • Generally speaking, flying at low altitude carries with it some very real dangers due to this trope. The closer you are to the ground, the more likely you are to collide with things like trees, power lines, fences, and even motor vehicles. Actually striking a solid object, even momentarily, can be disastrous for an aircraft, as it might not only rip something vital off, to include major structural components, but the sudden snag can cause the plane to crash to the ground. One bit of wisdom shared among helicopter pilots is that "powerlines often follow roads", warning pilots to be cautious when using roads as navigation aids as power lines are thin and difficult to see.
  • Low-altitude flight is used by military aircraft for terrain masking as RADAR cannot pick up or distinguish them from the landscape if they're flying low to the ground or below mountain tops.
  • Those red beacons that light up at night on the tips of buildings, bridge supports, radio aerials, cell towers, and the like that exceed a specified height? This trope is why they're mandated. This actually led to the height of The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror being built at only 199 feet tall, and not a single foot more, as red beacons would look anachronistic on what's supposed to resemble a 1930s hotel.


Video Example(s):


Rio Carnival Float

Linda and Tulio drive a Carnival float onto the runway where the bird smugglers' plane is taking off in a risky attempt to try stop the smugglers from stealing Blu, Jewel, and all the other birds. The plane gets into the air just in time, but its fuselage still destroys the upper part of the float.

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Example of:

Main / BellyScrapingFlight

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