I've gotten the opportunity twice under unusual circumstances. My brother served in F-14 squadron VF
-14 onboard the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. After a deployment, the Navy would hold what's known as a "Dependents' Day" on the carrier. My brother asked me and my wife to tag along with his family after one deployment. For the event we started out early one morning from Norfolk with no aircraft aboard the carrier. This was probably around 1990 or so. We went about 20 miles out to sea, and they ran a demo of the various weapon systems, followed by an A-7 Corsair dropping some bombs into the ocean a few miles out. Then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a Tomcat flying low over the carrier deck. It flew well past my line of vision without making any sound whatsoever, then all of a sudden "BOOOOM" - the sonic boom almost knocked you off your feet, and the whole ship vibrated. Kids were crying, adults were covering their ears - in short, it was awesome. What followed was a series of carrier landings and takeoffs by every aircraft type operating on the Kennedy then - E2s, A6s, EA
-6Bs, F-14s, S-3s. One by one the aircraft flew out from Oceana or Norfolk NAS
, landed on the carrier, then took off again from the bow cats. It really was "the greatest show on earth" as you put it. We had access to much of the ship, and saw the room where the arresting gear is located and also the catapult equipment. Lunch (awful hot dogs) was served on the hangar deck and there were also a lot of porta-potties lacking deodorizer down there.
The following year after the Kennedy returned from the Gulf War they did the same thing. My wife and I went back, and my parents from Memphis came along, too. The Tomcat did the sonic boom again, but the event narrator warned the crowd that it would happen, so it wasn't quite as much fun. It was a very long day - we left port around 5 a.m. and had to wait out at sea until past 8 p.m. for the tide to come in so we could clear the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel. For a long time I rode up in one of the swiveling chairs in a room in the bridge overlooking the flight deck, which was nice. My brother is no longer in the Navy, so this was a once (actually twice)-in-a-lifetime experience. What I would give now to have had my Canon 300D back then!! As it is all I managed were some fuzzy snapshots.