Attn Carrier Sailors, Question about Landings

I have two questions about carrier landings.

  1. I could have sworn, that I once heard that aircraft are recovered while the ship is moving downwind. This appears to make no sense as I would imagine you’d want to land into the wind. So I brushed it off as a false recollection. Then, a few days ago, I saw on the news some file footage of an F18 landing, and glancing at the seas, it appeared they were in fact travelling down swell. It was a quick glance, and I could be wrong. What gives?

  2. On a Discovery program last night about runways, they did a seg on carriers. They showed footage of an aircraft landing, hooking one of the wires, then the tailhook got ripped off the aircraft. They didn’t show what happened next. I would assume the plane got back into the air safely, but then what? What are the options of an airborne carrier plane minus one tailhook?

I am not carrier or Navy personell, so take my comments as conjecture by the layperson. I could take a guess:

  1. Presumably, roll is a much worse problem for the pilot than pitch of the ship - meaning that in a significant sea (ie. that which would impart any movement to a vessel the size of a carrier), it must be oriented either directly into or away from the prevailing sea. I suspect that winds are not as huge an issue with aircraft which are landing at essentially full throttle, so that is probably just the general direction that the ship was headed anyway.

  2. As mentioned above, the carrier aircraft approach their landings at full speed, so that if they fail to hook a wire, they can immediately just touch and go for another attempt. Actually losing the hook sounds like a disaster. The only option I see here is diversion to a land based airstrip, or a ditch over water with subsequent rescue by helicopter. I don’t know if a landing on a carrier deck without the catch system is possible - if it is, I would envision the pilot attempting the landing at low speed, and catch nets set up on the deck.

Full speed huh? So for an F-14 that would be about Mach 1.8 right? You really think an F-14 is going to slam into a carrier at >1000mph? Neither do I. Try 125 kts.

Carrier aircraft approach at a low speed, and after they hit the deck they then go to full power so that they can get up again if they miss the wire. Full power =! full speed.

In the event of a lost hook I imagine the aircraft either makes for a land base, they rig the crash net or the pilots ditch the plane and are picked up by a rescue helo.

(2) “rig the barricade” - that’s what is heard over the 1MC (the loudspeaker system) for disabled aircraft that absolutely have to be “trapped” (landed) aboard a carrier. This is a large netting kinda thing that is strung across the flight deck. I saw some of that show last night, too - I was surprised to hear the narrator say that recovery operations are conducted simulaneously with launching operations. In the dim and not-so-distant past, this was never done, primarily because the entire flight deck would have to be clear to do both operations at once, and there ain’t enough room on the hangar deck to accomodate all the other aircraft that ain’t in the air at the time. The reason I say that the entire flight deck would have to be clear is that while landings were going on, catapults one and two would not be available, and cats three and four would need a clear deck to launch aircraft. The landing area is on the angled deck, and that’s where two of the catapults are located. Come to think of it, one of the forward elevators would have to be used, making it even more dicey. Maybe the newer carriers of today have room to do all this, but I know that all the carriers up to and including the JFK wouldn’t have the space to conduct both operations at once.

Stephen Coonts, “Intruders” good book on carrier operations.

Perhaps no more tailhooks in the future, thanks to the JSF.

What Rhum Runner said is the case. With the angle deck configuration, a missed arrestment (bolter) is not the problem it once was. Before the angle deck a missed arrestment could have the A/C trying to land slamming into A/C further forward on the flight deck.

Not having seen the footage you refer to, I’d have to say that the appearance of landing down wind must have been an optical illusion.

Except for all the refueling aircraft, supply aircraft, ASW aircraft, AWACs, ECM planes like the Intruder etc…

I believe carriers are always headed upwind during recovery ops. Part of the reason I say this is that, IIRC, only one aircraft, the S-3 to be specific, has a low enough approach speed to make a downwind recovery.

And I’ve seen footage of a barrier trap. Really hairy. Tends to break things on the aircraft, too.

One other point to make is that the wind and the seas do not always run in the same direction, so it could well be that the ship was running with the seas but still pointed into the wind.

The angled deck also means that an aircraft that goes off the end of the runway while landing hits the water beside the moving ship instead of in front of it.

The Navy variant sure does have tailhooks, and will takeoff and land in the traditional manner. The USMC/Royal Navy version has VSTOL capabilities.

Yeah, that was my immediate thought when I read question 1. The swell does not necessarily run in the same direction as the wind. To see the wind direction you need to watch the direction the white water is breaking on the smaller waves running over the swell.