If My Light Aircraft Runs Out of Fuel Flying Over the Ocean, Is It Possible to Land on an Aircraft Carrier?
Are private, light aircrafts allowed to land on an aircraft carrier? Here is a story about a man who did an extraordinary feat.
What if you’re in your Cessna, flying in the middle of the ocean with not a single strip of land in sight, then suddenly, you ran out of fuel? Then, you look down below, searching for anything you could land on, and you see a huge ship cruising over the waters. The ship is an aircraft carrier, and you immediately had a ray of hope. But then you think to yourself, “Can I even land there?” “Will they even allow me to get close? Or will they shut me down before I can even attempt to?”
This situation may seem like something that would only occur in your dreams, but in fact, it has already happened before. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and learn the story of a South Vietnamese pilot who saved his family with his quick thinking.
Back on April 29, 1975, two years after the Paris peace agreement ended the nation’s conflict, chaos still enveloped Vietnam. American forces have already left the country, and the North Vietnamese took this opportunity to further their agenda. The long war between North and South Vietnam resumed after only a brief pause.
On that same day, Major Buang-Ly and his family were at Con Son Island, home of one of the last bases remaining under South Vietnam’s control, about 50 miles away from the southern coast. Buang learned that North Vietnamese forces were closing in, and he had to get out of there with his family if they were to survive. That is when he decided to steal a two-seat airplane and got airborne as soon as possible without any plan for what to do next.
Buang loaded the plane with his wife and five children, ages 14 months to 6 years, into the backseat and storage area. The overloaded plane took off and headed towards the sea as enemy forces fired at them. They are now on their own inside the tiny O-1 Bird Dog, a modified Cessna 170. This light, single-engine aircraft with a fixed landing gear saved them from certain death. However, the plane only has a range of 500 miles on a full tank, and their plane doesn’t have one. It also carries more load than what it was built for, so they were flying on borrowed time.
As they flew, Buang faced a lot of challenges. First, there is a fuel problem. Second, the Bird Dog was not designed to operate over water as it lacked the proper navigation and emergency equipment like life vests. Third, they had no way of communicating through radio because Buang forgot to bring a headset. But they pushed through, knowing that it is much safer there than on the island.
Half an hour up in the skies, Buang spotted a group of helicopters heading east and decided to follow them. He had no idea these helicopters were friendly, but he thought it was a good idea. He just thought maybe they would lead them to a safe place.
True enough, they led them to the US Midway, an aircraft carrier commanded by Captain Lawrence Chambers. Spotters from the ship saw the tiny Cessna 170 of Buang and his family. They saw that it had South Vietnamese markings, and it contained at least four people. Then the plane circled the carrier with its landing lights switched on. The ship’s Primary Flight Control tried to make contact with the plane through radio, but their efforts were futile.
Desperate of landing, Buang tried to drop notes from the plane onto the ship, but the wind just blew them away three times. On his fourth try, he stuffed the note inside his pistol holster to weight it down. The crew from the ship was able to get it. On the note, Buang was asking if they could move the helicopters on the side so they could land safely on the runway. Captain Chambers assessed the situation and approved the request. He thought it would be better to let them land safely than risk having them crash on the deck. He did this despite the pressure from the admirals and the possibility of being relieved from command.
In the end, Buang and his family were able to land safely on the aircraft carrier. But this is only due to the crew’s actions and the prerogative of Captain Chambers. Today, the Bird Dog that they used is now on display in the National Naval Aviation Museum in Florida.
Although Buang was able to do it, it doesn’t mean you should too! Besides making sure you have enough fuel, you have to keep your planes in good condition to fly them safely. We hope you may never face the situation where you have to risk a landing on an aircraft carrier to survive. And we can help you with that! Knisley Exhaust is your trusted partner in aircraft maintenance. Fly worry-free when you let Knisley Exhaust take care of your aircraft exhaust systems!