In Final Weeks, Group Clings to Hope of Saving USS Ranger


The saga of the USS Ranger, made famous by its role as the super carrier in Top Gun, and the efforts to save it from the scrap yard, has entered its last weeks. But Top Gun Super Carrier of Long Beach, Inc., isn’t going to let the Ranger sink without a fight.

Top Gun Super Carrier of Long Beach, Inc., is seeking an emergency donation hold on plans to ship the vessel to a Texas scrapyard in the coming weeks in an effort to buy time to find a permanent berth, with their sights set on Long Beach. The group has started an aggressive social media campaign as well as a petition, with the signees names being turned over to the Navy, NAVSEA and Congress as the group hopes for a “stay of execution” for the Ranger.

The first overtures were made to the city back in September 2014 when Councilman Dee Andrews proposed an investigation into the possibility bringing the historic ship to the city and was met with a 9-0 vote of approval. The plan would be to convert the ship into a carrier museum, much like the USS Midway in San Diego and the USS Intrepid in New York, with endless possibilities for corporate expansion. However, a spokesperson from Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal’s office says the ship may have already sailed on the Ranger coming to Long Beach.

Michael B. Shanahan, the project manager for Top Gun Super Carrier, said that right now, time is both their worst enemy and potentially their best friend. He admitted that there’s still much more work to be done with the city and the Port, but if Top Gun Super Carrier is successful in delaying the Ranger’s demise, it could reopen negotiations with Long Beach.

“Right now the most important for us to do, is if we can buy time with NAVSEA, to postpone the scrapping of the Ranger, then we have an opportunity to look at this a little harder, work with the city, get those commitments that that NAVSEA requires for us to be considered as a viable option to be a museum,” Shanahan said.

However, the Navy and its storage arm, NAVSEA, the largest of the Navy’s five system commands and is charged with designing, building, delivering and maintaining ships and systems for the Navy, say that the ships time to be saved has come and gone. The ship had been on a donation hold for eight years but the window closed before a viable suitor was found for the Ranger. It was sold in December for one cent (the rest of the profit will come from the the actual scrapping of the ship) to a company in Brownsville, Texas, where it will be towed from its current location in Bremerton, Wash. in the next few weeks. That is, unless Shanahan and his group are successful with their “Hail Mary” attempt of saving the Ranger.

The money shouldn’t be an issue according to the group’s chief financial officer, Chris Nelson. His group has proposed to the Navy that in lieu of scrapping the ship as scheduled, that Top Gun Super Carrier will pay the nearly $200,000 in annual costs to maintain and mothball the ship while the group figures out a permanent home for it. Despite its short existence, Top Gun Super Carrier claims to have secured some $14 million in committed funds for the project. The funds, Nelson said, will severely cut down on the Navy’s estimate that this is an 8-year project.

“This is a no brainer endeavor from a business and community perspective – and the USS Ranger’s last chance to serve the U.S. in a new capacity: as an economic engine and patriotic emblem that would redefine the City of Long Beach as a maritime destination. We’ve got the right people at the helm to deliver,” Nelson said in a statement.

The ship, which was built in 1957 and served in every American war up to its decommission year of 1993, was made famous when it played the part of the super carrier home to Maverick, Goose and Iceman in the 1986 Tom Cruise film. The ship earned 13 battle stars while serving in Vietnam, and in the Gulf War it flew more combat missions than any other carrier. The ship also served on many humanitarian missions. 

As much as Shanahan characterizes the Ranger as a historic artifact, which it is, he said that with its fighting days over the Ranger can now serve as an economic driver for the city. Pointing out the USS Midway’s success in generating $150 million in revenue during its first three years of operations and expansive capabilities onboard the one million square-foot Ranger, Shanahan said the ship could be a magnet for business in Long Beach.

“You could have a software company in there, you could have Apple in there, you could have Starbucks,” Shanahan said. “Suddenly it becomes much more than what it could be.”

A spokesman from NAVSEA said there is no legal mechanism that would allow the group to fund the storage for the ship and that private funding is not allowed for “inherently military purposes”. He also added that donated ships are meant to be operated as a permanent museum or memorial under a non-profit status, meaning any of the commercial purposes proposed by the group would also be prohibited.

Still, these could very well be the last days of the Ranger, an iconic ship both in film and in battle, something that Shanahan and Top Gun Super Carrier Long Beach are passionate about preventing.

“We know that saving the USS Ranger would have significantly more far-reaching economic, historic and social benefits than scrapping it,” Shanahan said. “This is our last chance to stop the loss of an irreplaceable cultural and historic asset.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that NAVSEA was the fifth largest of the Navy’s system commands, it is the largest of five system commands. Also, the one cent paid to the scrapping company was in addition to the money they’ll make from the ship’s scrapped materials.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.