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.
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 at which point a Belly-Scraping Flight (at best) or crash becomes more likely. 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 a couple of reasons why someone would do this:
- Ace Pilots showing off their Improbable Piloting Skills.
- An Appeal to Force against unfriendly forces without actually shooting at them.
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. When traveling at speed, they can be on top of you before you hear them coming. Add to that the dread of having what's subconsciously interpreted as a gigantic projectile coming your way, and you get the idea.
A pilot can also do this in flight to another aircraft by flying very close past it (this is dangerous not only for the above reasons, but because the backwash from the accelerated air can disrupt the other plane's engines, potentially causing a crash).
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").
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A Kerbal Comics strip featured this being done with a rocket. "REALLY LOUD RUMBLE NOISES" indeed.
- Dumbo ends with him showing off his new abilities by flying low over the heads of everyone who harassed and made fun of him.
- 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 Peanuts Movie: The Red Baron buzzes Flying Ace Snoopy's root beer party, leaving his face covered in root beer foam.
- In The Little Mermaid as part of the attempt to crash the wedding and buy time for Ariel, Scuttle gets a bunch of seagulls to buzz Vanessa.
- 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.
- Played for drama when Navy fighters are making low-altitude photo recon passes over Cuba. As they can't admit that anyone shot at them because it could lead to World War Three breaking out, the planes come back riddled with holes that allegedly came from flying through a flock of birds.
Petty Officer: Were those 20 mm or 40 mm sparrows, sir?
- 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.
- 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.
- Captain Charlie Stark in Wake Me When It's Over. He is first introduced by buzzing his own outpost, and Lieutenant McKay indicates that this is the reason for his stifled Air Force career (he buzzed the Supreme Court!). His arrival to Gus's court martial is hailed by doing this twice, bailing out the second time.
- 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.
- In Banco, Papillon's Ace Pilot friend Carotte gets revenge for being tossed out of a brothel by dive bombing the place so that the cheap roofing gets ripped off in his wake, exposing the whores and their clients. Another time he banks the plane dangerously low just to scare a woman using her garden as a toilet.
- Catch-22. One of the side-character pilots likes to do this over the beach near their airbase where people relax and fraternize while off-duty, flying very low over the water and the floating dock/rafts they have set up. Various people find it either amusing or annoying, until the day one of their buddies leaps up from the dock at just the wrong moment (trying to touch the belly of the plane as it passed) and gets the top half of him shredded by one of the propeller engines. This incident is but one among many that help push the protagonist, Yossarian, into near insanity.
- 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.
- Midsomer Murders: Done with murderous intent in "The Flying Club". The murderer is flying a light plane and chases the second Victim of the Week, who is on the ground. The murderer buzzes him low enough to strike his head with the landing gear of the plane, killing him. During the Motive Rant at the end, Barnaby acknowledges it was an exceptional piece of flying.
- Game of Thrones. When Jon Snow and Davos Seaworth turn up to negotiate with Queen Daenerys, one of her dragons pulls the fantasy version of this trope, swooping so low over Jon and Davos that they fling themselves to the ground in alarm.
Tyrion: (helping Jon up) I'd say you get used to them...but you never really do.
- Cannon: In "A Flight of Hawks", Woodman, the leader of a band of Private Military Contractors, repeatedly buzzes Belmont's jeep as as he is trying to escape the compound; eventually forcing him of the road.
- For All Mankind
- A couple of fighters do a low flypast of the Saturn V. Given the rocket's height this is not strictly a version of this trope, but as those below are standing on top of the Saturn's launch elevator it makes them duck anyway. Wernher von Braun gripes, "Pilots! We should have stuck with the monkeys."
- In the following episode, one of the astronauts and his wingman buzzes his own house on flying back from Florida. His wife doesn't react except to say, "Boys, your daddy's home."
- 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".
- Warhammer 40,000:
- 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.
- Any aircraft model actually deployed on the board is doing this. Even dive-bombers would normally only spend a very short time so close to their targets, and most aircraft are at least partly fighters or even spaceships. Being so low and slow that they can be represented on the board and shot at by ground troops is extremely unusual. Obviously this is a case where Rule of Cool overrides the lore, since otherwise players wouldn't get to play with their cool planes.
- Ace pilots in the Gaiden Game Aeronautica Imperialis have a chance of surviving and continuing to fly in situations where they'd normally crash, including attempting to fly at altitude 0 (which normally indicates than a plane has hit the ground and died).
- Star Trek Online. Episode "Cardassian Struggle", mission "Rapier". After exiting the Bajoran wormhole you can buzz Ops on Deep Space 9. This grants an accolade titled "That's a Negative Ghost Rider, The Pattern Is Full".
- Invoked in a Warcraft III Stop Poking Me!, where the Dragonhawk Rider asks for permission to buzz the tower.
- The second and third Saints Row games have Barnstorming, which requires you to pilot an aerial vehicle over, through, or underneath specific landmarks. The achievement for completing all fifty Barnstorms in Saints Row 2 is called Maverick Goose.
- Batman: Vengeance has the Batwing do this while chasing Mr. Freeze's helicopter. Batman has to fly very, very low to the ground through Gotham's expressways on an incredibly busy night.
- Kerbal Space Program players love to buzz the space center's control tower. It's cool when done with a fighter jet, awesome when done with a hypersonic space plane and absolutely hilarious when done with a 100 meter tall 3-stage rocket.
- Janes USAF: In this game, your flight instructor makes you buzz an ATC tower. And he will end the mission only when you buzz it to his satisfaction.
- One of the hidden aces in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown can only be spawned by flying along a kilometers-long electromagnetic mass accelerator rail at very low altitude, while under enemy fire from all directions and with a tight invisible time limit ticking in the background. It's one of the most difficult ace spawn conditions to fulfill regardless of what control scheme you prefer, and also one of the most frustrating because you don't know if you got it right until the ace appears (or not) much later in the mission.
- 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.
- A common training exercise for pilots is the "Touch-and-go", which involves repeatedly doing this on purpose (over an Airfield or Aircraft Carrier, and obviously, with their permission!). The objective is to practice landing by making the correct approach, make contact with the runway, and then immediately retract flaps and apply power to lift off again. Then, rinse and repeat. It allows pilots to get repeated practice of most of the landing procedure in a relatively short flight, and its defenders argue that a touch-and-go is not just practice for landing, but also an important safety maneuver because a pilot must be able to abort a landing even at the last minute.
- Landing at Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport required doing this. Due to high population and limited space, the airport was located right in the middle of Hong Kong. This required pilots to fly a complicated approach pattern through high rise buildings (see the other wiki for details), often referred to as "Heart attack approach". Some real life videos. Kai Tak has since closed and new airport was built on an artificial island farther out of the city.
- 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.
- Gordon Cooper, one of the "Mercury Seven" astronauts did this and terrified the Project Mercury 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. He then had to make up for his antics while his backup Al Shepard (the first American to fly into space, and the only Mercury Seven astronaut to walk on the moon) grew overconfident in being assigned to the Faith 7 flight. Cooper did redeem himself in the flight by setting several records and preventing a potential disaster, and the flight director he pissed off earlier on congratulated Cooper at his mission completion by telling him "you were the right man"! However, such Maverick behaviour was typical of Cooper, for example, he entered a 24 hour car race when he was supposed to be training for Gemini 5, angering the NASA hierarchy, and is likely why Shepard instead of Cooper got to walk on the moon.
- 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 Fly by Michael Veitch, an Australian WW2 trainee buzzed his own house so low he could see a member of the Observer Corp taking down his aircraft number. To avoid being scrubbed from pilot training he had to land back at his airfield, arrange a leave pass, race back home by road, sneak into the observation post while it was unmanned and steal the log entry. Another pilot who thought he'd beat up the main street of his home town was smart enough to drop a message (literally, from the air) the day before to his father, so he'd be waiting at the police station to persuade the local constabulary not to pass on any complaints.
- 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, 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, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur "Bud" Holland had a long track record of doing this in his B-52. It caught up with him in an airshow practice at Fairchild Air Force Base where he made a tight turn at low altitude. The bomber stalled out in a steep bank and the plane plowed into the ground, killing all four crewmembers. (Warning: video NSFW.)
- The Fairchild AFB crash is used in the military and aviation communities as a case study not only due to the mistakes made leading up to it, but the fact that all four members of the crew were very experienced officers. They included the 92nd Bomb Wing's Vice Wing Commander, the 325th Bomb Squadron's commander and its operations officer, and finally Bud Holland himself, who was in charge of the Bomb Wing's Standards and Evaluations branch. In other words, the part of the Wing intended to keep people from breaking rules that might damage equipment or get people killed.
- 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. They accidentally came much closer to the ground than they intended, requiring an emergency engagement of the afterburners to stay airborne. Their superiors assumed they'd done that on purpose to be dramatic, and were so impressed with the result that the pilots were commended instead of reprimanded. 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. He does note that things were a lot more casual in those days; one pilot who had difficulties with navigation would buzz the train stations so he could read the sign saying which station it was.
- There's a beach in the Caribbean that's now become a tourist attraction thanks to this trope. The aircraft are actually coming in to land, but while doing so they fly very low over a public beach.
- Outraged from not being allowed to fly their aircraft as part of France's World War 1 victory parade, French Air Force pilots decided to protest by choosing one of their own to fly under the Arc de Triomphe. After the first volunteer was killed practicing for the stunt, a substitute, Warrant Officer Charles Godefroy completed the task on August 7th, 1919 with tactically placed film crews on hard to document the event.
- 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?
- Botching this stunt was how famous British fighter pilot Douglas Bader ended up Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Specifically, he was attempting an aileron roll at low level but misjudged his altitude, one wingtip dug into the ground and the plane cartwheeled. Bader survived, barely, but lost both his legs; one was all but severed on impact and the other had to be amputated a few days later due to gangrene. Bader went on to regain flight status mostly by sheer bloody-minded persistence and became a decorated Battle of Britain veteran.