Drone captures sad footage of aircraft carrier from Top Gun on its way to scrapyard

When I was a kid, I loved aviation, especially Naval Aviation. From high-end flight simulators to being able to identify a carrier by her number or physical features, I had a passion for the floating airfields that helped maintain American dominance in the 20th and 21st centuries.

One of the ships I was particularly fond of was the USS Ranger, which carried a fascinating history and had a tendency to show itself in my favorite literature, films and games.

Launched in 1956 and named after “one who wanders”, the Ranger was a Forrestal-class carrier and home to two of my favorite aircraft of the Vietnam era- the AD-7 Skyraider and the A-6 Intruder.

During the Vietnam War, the Ranger’s AD-7s participated in the opening strikes of Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder, which involved a whole lot of strikes and mass bombing. AD-7s (known in other circles as A-1s) were regularly used on Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) or “Sandy” missions. The Vietnam-era equivalent of a carrier and land-based A-10 with a propeller, the Skyraider was a beast that could hang at treetop level and bring the pain when asked.

Another -and much better known to the ship- aircraft to grace the decks of the Ranger was the A-6 Intruder, which was the star of the Vietnam-themed 1986 book and 1991 film Flight of the Intruder (which also spawned a flight simulator of the same name). More realistic than Top Gun and with Willem Dafoe being able to out-crazy Tom Cruise, the film showed a lot more about life aboard an aircraft carrier and the challenges faced by brave aircrews over Vietnam.

Interestingly enough, when a sailor – who just so happened to be deployed in Desert Storm aboard the Ranger during the Persian Gulf War in 1991- sent a letter to Paramount Pictures asking for a copy of the film, director John Milius reportedly went to the carrier to deliver the film in person.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to mention Top Gun in passing only, as a lot of interior filming took place on the Ranger in 1985, with numerous references being made to the ship on film. The F-14 Tomcat enjoyed a lengthy career aboard the ship, and captured the heart of pretty much any red-blooded American boy who grew up in the 1980s/90s.

The Ranger participated in Desert Storm launching numerous sorties from her deck in 1991. One sortie -flown by F-14s from VF-1 “Wolfpack”- resulted in an Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter being shot down. During this time, the Ranger also suffered a loss of an A-6 crew, who were killed when they were shot down near the Iraqi Umm Qasr naval base.

The Ranger took her final deployment in 1992, enforcing the No-Fly Zone over Iraq in Operation Southern Watch and playing a crucial role in providing aid to starving Somalis during Operation Restore Hope. In December of the same year, she sailed home for San Diego, her career at an end. She was decommissioned the following summer, and was sent to Bremerton, Washington to be stripped down for scrap, sinking or donation.

Although efforts were made to save the ship, the US Navy ultimately decided to scrap her, paying the Brownsville, Texas- based International Shipbreaking one US penny to tow and scrap the Ranger.

Between her towing to Brownsville and final resting place in 2015, a boat crew armed with a drone flew around the deck of the Ranger, showing the old girl stripped of anything that could be reused. She sat abandoned, an eerie floating ghost town that was once a proud symbol of American dominance of the seas.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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