Terrorist Catch and Release

This image has been floating around the internet for at least two years. It usually is accompanied by the caption: "In 2003 the US Navy initiates its new 'Terrorist Catch and Release Program.'" Obviously the caption is a joke, and I'm guessing that the car has been photoshopped in. But what would the crowd be standing there for? Would it be safe for them to stand there as a plane was taking off?

Military Photos

Posted on Tue Mar 29, 2005


its off a bbc (british) tv show called top gear, they launched a car off the ship to "kill off" their test driver "stig"
check it out at http://www.topgear.com

p.s bloody good tv show
Posted by paul  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  11:22 PM
So the car really was being hurled off the ship, and there was actually a person in the car?
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  11:27 PM
To quote Fredy Krueger:

"Ooo, what a rush!"
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  11:33 PM
I've seen a few of those Top Gear shows. One I saw had a huge semi crash into a little hatchback supposedly driven by one of the presenters. After the crash they informed the audience that the car was remote controlled with a dummy at the wheel. Probably same thing here.
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  11:36 PM
Oops. I think I may have meant the other car show - 5th Gear. Still, same result in the end. 😝
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Tue Mar 29, 2005  at  11:52 PM
when top gear did it, it was to see if an elderly, race-prepared Jaguar could out-accelerate a jet plane (i forget the outcome). the gag was that the 'stig'- the mysterious helmeted driver- wasnt able to stop in time and shot off the end of the aircraft carrier. however if you look carefully at the shot of the car actually flying off the deck, you can see the plume of smoke from where it was fired off by the car-cannon used in james bond films, starsky and hutch etc.
Posted by Nick  in  Merrie Olde Englande  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  01:57 AM
Don't forget that jets are accelerated off the deck by a sort of horizontal catapult system -- they don't take off on their own as they would if they had a lot of runway.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  05:27 AM
If this picture is from a tv show, where are the tv cameras?
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  05:58 AM
I assumed they meant it was a still taken from the show; y'know, so that the cameras would be where the shot was taken from.
Ok, now I'm confusing myself.
Posted by Boo  in  The Land of the Haggii...  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  06:07 AM
This is actually a snapshot of a test in progress. Before the Navy commissions a new aircraft carrier, they run the cats through a set of tests to see how strong they are. They start with a very basic box on wheels, and gradually move their way up to something weighing what a jet would.

They do, in some cases, shoot a car off the deck.
Posted by Barry  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  07:29 AM
Back in the early 90's a French auto company ran an ad for one of their new vehicles. It was a humourous advertisement, (in french, if I recall correctly) that showed a racecar driver gearing up for a vehicle road test, and then, after appropriate build-up, being launched off the air-craft carrier deck with a satisfying scream of terror. Does this shot come from that advertisement? (When I saw the ad on a T.V. program about foreign ad campaigns I nearly laughed myself sick...)
Posted by Jeremy Osborn  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  08:30 AM
The BBC 'Top Gear' programme shot the car off the stern of HMS Invincible.
The carrier in the picture is a lot larger than Invincible, and also appears to be using a steam catapult, which Invincible doesn't have.
Posted by Howard  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  09:00 AM
Nick, catapults on aircraft carriers are steam powered. That is the reason for the 'plume of smoke'.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  09:28 AM
>> They do, in some cases, shoot a car off the deck.

The navy does not just throw cars into the sea, regardless of what you claim they do for tests. It's too environmentally harmful.

When I was in the Army, we dropped some old tanks into the sea off the East Coast to help with reefs. The engines were removed, along with any moving parts, and thoroughly cleaned of oil and fluids to make then environmentally safe. The doors were welded open and they were sandblasted to remove paint, another possible danger to the environment.
Posted by Bill B.  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  09:36 AM
The ship in the photo is the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). The ship certainly isn't a British carrier as evidenced by the lack of a "ski jump" ramp on the bow. CAPT Al is completely right that the catapults on aircraft carriers are steam driven, hence the "smoke" plume.

I served on the USS Constellation from 92-96, and had heard stories about shooting non-flying objects, like cars, off the pointy end, but had never witnessed it.

I would say, however, that if it were done, the picture would look just like this. The crowd would be watching from behind the catapult, there would be no one to the sides, there would be no other aircraft on the flight deck, etc.

The Enterprise has been in service since 1961. This looks like an older picture and the car looks like it's 60s-70s vintage (Dodge Dart?). I think that this is likely legit.
Posted by Rob B.  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  11:45 AM
Bill B.

It's very sweet that you think that a government entity such as the armed forces would never do anything environmentally harmful. It provides so much hope for the future. But just like the cruise lines that dump their garbage into the sea on a regular basis, all others at sea do what they want. I served on the U.S.S. Enterprise (CVN-65) from 1988 to 1992 as an AG2. My job was weather observer for the station meteorologist. Our workstation was directly above the air traffic controllers in the tower. No one worked higher than us on that ship except the pilots, we had a 360 degree view, and NOTHING left the deck without first being briefed by our department.

Tests were often conducted, like EVERY time a cat was ever serviced. YES, they came to us for a weather briefing before launching even a non-flying test.

If stray items sometimes made it on board to "help" in the testing of the cats it wouldn't be the first time. It was never officially OK'd by anyone but no one really cared. It was fun stuff to watch... personally, I saw only one vehicle go off the catapults. A VW bug van... and any crew who could was gathered on deck to watch. The air boss however didn't... so you might not find it in any operation manuals but stupid shit does take place.

What do you expect out of that many guys in one small place, bored, and with the most bad-ass toys in human history?
Posted by Mark-N-Isa  in  Midwest USA  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  12:12 PM
The Army took the care it did BECAUSE it was providing a "reef" for things to live on... and that event was provided with "publicity" which can make anyone VERY conscious. However, not everything is done in the publics' scrutinizing eyes. The Navy has indeed "just shot a vehicle into the ocean." I witnessed it. It was drained of fluids, before it was brought on board in Hawaii... but that's all the preventative care taken with it. And I guarantee, it's at the bottom, and always will be.
Posted by Mark-N-Isa  in  Midwest USA  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  12:22 PM
No guys, I'm pretty sure thats from top gear. thats almost definitely the white jaguar he was driving in that episode. Also, they nitro charged the car which would explain the plume of smoke left behind (if I'm not mistaken)
Posted by djg  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  03:40 PM
I guess I'm the only person in the world who doesn't get the joke.
What does any of this have to do with catching and releasing terrorists?
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  05:15 PM
See, Gary. What if you got asked that question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Then you'd like pretty silly asking the audience. 😜
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  05:26 PM
I can accept that the military hasn't always been environmentally responsible. I said they don't do it now. You made it sound like it was officially sanctioned testing and common in the first. You backtracked heavily from that in the second.

>>It was never officially OK'd by anyone but no one really cared.

That some idiots would do it just to do it I believe. That the navy routinely or even occassionally sends a car off the end to test the system, I don't. I'm also not convinced this is a nitro-charged jaguar, but I'm not a car expert.
Posted by Bill B.  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  08:15 PM
As far as being "sweet" thinking, I only believe that there's at least one, perhaps even two, people in the Navy who would realize that doing this as a routine test would be an open invitation to negative publicity when an environmental group learned of it.
Posted by Bill B.  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  08:21 PM
That ain't no Jaguar, no curves, looks like a Chevy Impala, Ford Falcon or some such American Box style car.
Posted by martinelli  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  09:17 PM
My guess would be a '64 Ford Futura, a '65 Chevy Belair, or a '66 Rambler classic. I am thankful that it is not my Chariot of Fire. She will be mine again, this I swear
Posted by Raoul  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  09:44 PM
I also served in the navy for a number of years, including a tour on a new aircraft carrier through the construction and testing phase, and am going to join in with the others who have already stated that the navy does test the catapult launching system by using a series of increasing weights (which can then be recoved from the water afterwards for reuse). Although it's unlikely anyone would do it again, in years past when the world was a less environmentally-aware place they did sometimes use other objects as well, including a couple of cars.
Posted by Thaddeus  on  Thu Mar 31, 2005  at  06:28 PM
The photo is from the USS Enterprise - you can tell by the big number on the front of the flight deck. I retired from the navy, and have heard several 'sea stories' about shooting cars off the the flight deck. According to the story, somebody had a car they wanted to get rid of, rather than junk it, they decided to launch it and made an event out of it - hence the audience If you look at the photo, it appears to be an old car, giving the "junker" story some creedence.
This may be frowned upon in today's navy, but from the look of the car, the incident happened several years ago. This could very be a real event.
Posted by Kevin Fraser  on  Thu Mar 31, 2005  at  07:20 PM
Yes, it's the Enterprise, Earth-bound version.

Pic One

Pic Two

Pic Three

These links all came from here , and if you look, you could probably nail down the year it was taken by checking the number size painted on the foredeck, etc.
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Thu Mar 31, 2005  at  07:52 PM
If you trying out a catapult after repairing it, what would be your first choice to test it with? An old car or a $30 million fighter plane?
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Fri Apr 01, 2005  at  05:28 PM
Umm, actually probably a gopher.
Or maybe the next person who tries to convince me that eating a burger is wrong.

Or maybe, in keeping with the name, a cat?


Wow, I can feel the hatred already, and I haven't even pressed 'Submit' yet.
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Fri Apr 01, 2005  at  07:48 PM
the carrier in the picture is the USS-Enterprise.
Its NOT the same event as the BBC's film of a Jaguar XJ-S going over the bow ramp of HMS Invincible.
You can see that film on the BBC website at
Invincible has a ramp, no catapults, a pointed bow, and the deck does not flare out on the right (as shown in the picture). The ship in the picture has a square bow, two catapults, and the giveaway - Enterprise's pennant number - 65 - painted on the deck
Finally I know little about USA cars, so I've no idea what it is, but thats not a Jaguar in the shot!!!
Posted by demdike  on  Sun Apr 03, 2005  at  04:39 PM
Thanks for the link, demdike. I watched the video. You're right. That's definitely not the same carrier as pictured above. Plus, they don't even use a catapult in the topgear clip.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Sun Apr 03, 2005  at  05:02 PM
I was there for that launch. From my vantage point on the front of the waist cat, I took a full series of photos, from preparation, to traveling down the catapult, to the short air flight and water impact. It was a Ford Falcon that the Enterprise Weapons Department used to drive around Olongapo. In 1978 as the ship was leaving the PI to return to the States for an extended overhaul. The vehicle was no longer needed and was given a "burial at sea".
Posted by Rick in MI  on  Fri May 27, 2005  at  11:36 PM
Being ex-Navy myself, I never doubted it was a Ford Falcon. Given the old rivalry of the Air Force and Naval Air, I'm sure it was a flight test to see if a falcon could really fly.
Posted by Doug  on  Thu Aug 04, 2005  at  04:49 PM
Well I can say categorically that this picture is NOT from BBC's Top Gear program! As Howard correctly said, HMS Invincible does not have a steam-catapult, and when launching her aircraft, they rely solely on the plane's enginge power and ski-ramp alone! Also, the Jag was launched off the bow, not the stern! The aim was to see if the Stig could manage to hit 100mph in 200m - he managed 109mph.

That's my griping over!
Posted by Allan  on  Wed Nov 09, 2005  at  11:19 AM
This photo is not from a TV show. It's not doctored. It really happened. It's not a "test". The US Navy may not do this any more, but they certainly did it that day!

I was stationed on the ship, and I was there on the flight deck. I took photos. The ship was the USS Enterprise, and we were leaving Subic Bay for the last time before an extended yard period. It was in late 1978.

It was a Dodge.
Posted by I was there  on  Tue Nov 22, 2005  at  11:44 AM
I was on the Cat crew that shot it. 😊 It was a '67 Plymouth Valiant. This picture is taken from the cruise book for the Enterprise WETPAC '78 cruise. I'm in a second picture in the book. The stories above are correct. It was the parts car for Heavy - 1, the Vigilante squadran. And they were being decomisioned upon return to CONUS. It was a POS so none of the other squadrans would buy it. This idea was thought up where all good ideas are thought up - in the Subic Bay O club. When this pic came out with the terrorist quote, I was able to hook up on line with the then LTJG who thought it up and sold it to the Big E skipper, after everone else in the chain of comand said no. The Skipper said do it! What Balls.
Posted by Curt  on  Wed Aug 09, 2006  at  11:47 PM
In spite of all the "I was there" info on the type of car, none of the above is totallt correct. It was a 1963 Plymouth Savoy, as identifiable from this pic:
Posted by Dave  on  Sat Sep 16, 2006  at  02:54 AM
this is not the top gear film. the one intop gear had a ramp at the end. derrrrr
Posted by me  on  Thu May 10, 2007  at  02:58 PM
I was on the ship as well and standing somewhere around the tractor when the photo was taken. Curt from one of the previous post was in my division. I thought it was so hilarious that I would see that photo after all these years. I recognized the car immediatley. it had the name of our division officers favorite sailor (Oliphant) on it as the pilot.
Posted by Eric  on  Wed Jun 06, 2007  at  03:24 PM
I was on the boat too. As a Tiger Cruise member. My father was AO1 Jerry Cook. I was mad because I didn't actually get to see the launch. We were down in the galley eating and watching a movie. I'll never forget that cruise and loved every minute of it. At least those minutes I wasn't hanging out of the bunk puking in a 5 gallon bucket. LOL
Posted by Jeff Cook  on  Mon Sep 24, 2007  at  11:09 PM
I was standing next to the photographer when he took this photo. The car was shot off the deck of the USS Enterprise during the Tiger Cruise in 1978. It belonged to a squadron that was being decommissioned. The crowd is made up of sailors and dependants who were aboard.

If you can get a copy of the 1978 Enterprise Crusie Book you can find this you will see a series of photos as they prepare to launch the car. There is also a photo of a skinny long haired kid pretending to operate the signal light, thats me when I was 14.
Posted by Hal  on  Thu Nov 08, 2007  at  02:52 PM
Yup, not a photoshop, the air wing launched it when we were returning from the '78 West Pac. I remembered it as being a Dodge Dart, but hey, it's been a lot of years.
As far as environmental effect, it was a lot more benign than a LOT of the s*** we dumped in the ocean!
Posted by Bob Peterson  on  Wed Apr 16, 2008  at  07:37 AM
This is the USS Enterprise.

Starting in 2003 this photo circulated the Internet captioned as a Navy new "Terrorist Catch and Release Program."

In fact, it was taken in October 1978, as the Big E was leaving the Philippines to return to the US for what was considered "the most extensive and highly complex overhaul" of the ship's history to date (1979
Posted by Army_Brat  on  Fri May 16, 2008  at  08:13 PM
Starting in 2003 this photo circulated the Internet captioned as a Navy new "Terrorist Catch and Release Program."

In fact, it was taken in October 1978, as the Big E was leaving the Philippines to return to the US for what was considered "the most extensive and highly complex overhaul" of the ship's history to date (1979
Posted by Army_Brat  on  Fri May 16, 2008  at  08:15 PM
My dad was on the Forrestal carrier and yes, he told me they dis actually shoot cars off the flightdeck for testing and calibration purposes.
Posted by Zack  on  Mon Nov 17, 2008  at  03:57 PM
Picture not fake. The car was a 1962/3 Dodge, Plymouth or Chrysler purchased at NAS Cubi Point by RVAH-1, making their twilight cruise, for just this moment. They painted it in the squadron colors, added little stubby wings and a launch bar and it was fired off the pointy end in October, 1978 while returning from WESTPAC on USS Enterprise (CVN 65). I know..I'm one of the sailors standing on the deck watching.
Posted by ATCS(AW) S. J. McLeod, VS-38  on  Wed Jun 10, 2009  at  06:54 PM
Ha that is funny, I was stationed on the big e from 98-02 we launched a 1978 camero off the pointy end, cat 1. I was the one that prepaired it for launch, I have a video of the whole process and the launch.
Posted by Tim Miller  on  Tue Oct 20, 2009  at  11:22 PM
As I recall, that is a Dodge Valiant.

The RA-5C Vigilante aircraft (a very high speed, carrier based reconnaissance aircraft) was coming to the end of its service life in the late 70's.

RVAH-1 (Heavy 1) was the 'Viggie' squadron embarked in USS Enterprise (CVN-65; note the big 65 painted on the bow) during the '78 WestPac cruise.

The car belonged to that squadron, and was their 'in port' car at Subic Bay (Philippines). I don't know how long the car had been there, or how many squadrons had owned it before them.

Just prior to our departure from Subic, heading home upon WestPac completion, the squadron had the car loaded aboard the boat--for the specific purpose of the catapault launch you see in the photo--as one of its final acts before their 1979 decommissioing. Here's a picture with supporting info:

The hype did not match the reality, unfortunately, as the car dropped very rapidly into the deep blue sea right after that cat shot. I didn't expect it to fly, of course, but it really dropped!

But, all in all, quite interesting.

I was a PR-1 in VS-38 during that cruise and was in that photo.

As asides, for those who remember:

We went to GQ the night before our Pearl Harbor port call, as a dozen or so Filipino stowaways had been discovered sometime during the Subic-Pearl transit.

VS-38 accepted 'Miss Piggy' (one of only a few US-3A COD aircraft at that time) from VS-33 during that cruise. I believe it was during that cruise that Miss Piggy's cargo blivet blew open on the flight deck, scattering mail of all kinds across the flight deck and into the sea.

Bob Corrow
PRCS USN (Retired)
Lake Tahoe, Ca
Posted by PRCS  on  Thu Nov 26, 2009  at  11:38 AM
I was standing lookout up on the island when the car was shot off. Great times!
Posted by jeff  on  Thu Jun 10, 2010  at  07:04 PM
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