If you look at photographs captured during the mid-20th century, odds are you’ll come across some that feature US Navy aircraft covered in graffiti. The majority of the phrases and tags are rather tame, while others are more risqué and inflammatory. You might assume these acts of vandalism were the work of enemy forces, but they were actually painted by American naval aviators who wanted to make light of a pilot accidentally landing their aircraft on the wrong vessel.
During the 1950s and ’60s, radar and GPS technology were still in their infancy, meaning it wasn’t uncommon for naval aviators to become turned around or lost, resulting in them landing on the wrong aircraft carrier. Innocent as their errors may have been, crewmen liked to pick on these pilots by covering their jets with graffiti, so they wouldn’t soon forget their mistakes.
As a 2018 tweet from the US Naval Institute explains, “Navy [tradition] holds that pilots who make a navigational error and land on the wrong carrier get mocked by the crew who ‘decorate’ the plane with graffiti. Adding @USAirForce markings is the ultimate insult to an already embarrassed naval aviator.”
The above photo is a prime example of this. Captured in 1952, it features a graffiti-covered US Navy McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee with Fighter Squadron 62 (VF-62). It’s parked on the flight deck of the USS Wasp (CV-18). The aircraft carrier, however, wasn’t the jet fighter’s assigned ship, which is why Wasp‘s crew tagged it with graffiti.
Among the comments painted on the F2H-2 include “Must be Air Force,” “VF-62 Guard Mail Original Coral Sea First,” “From Heaven to Coral Sea via Stinger,” “You name it – you land on it,” “Fouled up” and “Airman Adams reporting sir.”
VF-62 – known as the “Gladiators” – was operational between 1955-62. When this was taken, it was stationed aboard the USS Coral Sea (CVB-43) with Carrier Air Group 4 (CVG-4), which was taking part in a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean.
While the practice is still around today, graffitiing US Navy aircraft occurs only on the rarest of occasions, given advancements in technology mean landing on the wrong vessel seldom happens anymore.