Here's What Happens To Planes That Land On The Wrong Aircraft Carrier

It has never been easier to get somewhere. With GPS available on phones and even cars, even the most disoriented person can still find their way. Besides, even if you make a mistake you can simply course correct it immediately without much consequence. There are big exceptions, of course. For instance, if you are a naval aviator, there are major consequences for taking the wrong direction and landing on the wrong aircraft carrier.

If you saw "Top Gun: Maverick," or better yet, the movie "Devotion," you have seen how hard it looks to land a plane on an aircraft carrier, as it requires a lot of precision just to find the right angle. This is assuming you're approaching the right carrier in the first place, of course, which was not a given in the pre-GPS days.

For pilots who managed to land safely, but not on their assigned aircraft carriers, there was a special punishment that is as embarrassing as it is funny. It is a naval tradition that pilots who land on the wrong carrier by navigational mistake are punished by having the crew decorate the plane with graffiti.

Just a bit of fun

The above image features an F2H-2 fighter parked on the deck of the USS Wasp back in 1952, with the crew of the Wasp covering the plane with humorous tags. These include a jab at another branch of the military, saying "Must be Air Force," a tag saying "You name it – you land on it," and many more.

As embarrassing, and funny, as the graffiti is, the truth is that it is quite understandable that some planes would land in the wrong aircraft carrier. This is particularly true in the 1950s and 1960s when navigational technology like GPS and radar wasn't what it is today, making it easier for pilots to make mistakes. Additionally, the lack of major wars at the moment makes it rarer to have carrier strike groups with several aircraft carriers in the same area compared to the '40s and '50s, so it was easier to mix one with another from the air. Thankfully, it is quite rare for US Navy planes to land on the wrong carrier. If they do, however, they would still get graffitied.