Aircraft Carrier Landings

Posted on 16. Dec, 2008 by in Featured

Is that cool or what? My favorite aircraft, the F-4 phantom II, circa 1968. No not me, I’m not that old, I flew the Phantom in VX-30 in the mid-late 90’s. This is however my favorite clip of a carrier landing. So how is it done?

Not really a mystery; imagine an oval or race track pattern. The aircraft flies up the wake of the ship at 800 feet AGL (above the ocean) on a straight leg of the oval. He is going the same direction as the boats Base Recovery Course (BRC). The pilot then makes a hard left turn for 180 degrees, the top curve of the oval. He then enters the downwind leg. This turn is called a break turn, it is also used to slow the aircraft. The downwind is opposite the BRC, once on it the aircraft descends to 600 feet AGL, lowers landing gear, flaps, speed brakes and hook then continues until the pilot determines he is abeam the ship.

Abeam the ship going the opposite direction (the other leg of the oval) the pilot will roll the aircraft into 25-30 degree angle of bank turn and begin a slight 200-300 feet per minute descent, the bottom arc of the oval. Halfway through the turn, at the 90, he should be on speed (optimum angle of attack) and at 450 feet above the water. The pilot continues the turn and steepens the descent rate to 500 feet per minute. The first half of the turn is done mostly on instruments, after the 90 he transitions his scan to half in and half out of the cockpit.

Crossing the wake of the ship his altitude should be 325-375 depending on how aggressive (short) his groove length (wings level time on final approach). Look closely and you can see the landing area is not on line with the ship. It is off –set to allow the aircraft to get back airborne after missing the arresting cables instead of crashing into parked aircraft. A necessity in the jet age. Most ships are 9 degrees off of the ships keel line. My first ship the USS Midway had a 13 degree angle deck, you had to come a long way around the corner. This also causes the centerline of the landing area to move right as you fly up the grove. Watch both of these examples from the cockpit and you can see the pilots “cheat right”. By doing that the centerline comes to them.

Once you cross the wake you transition to outside only. Glide slope reference comes from the yellow ball on the left side of the landing area. To stay on proper glide slope you need to keep the yellow ball level with the green datum lines. Course control is maintained by watching the centerline painted on the landing area. Airspeed control is maintained by scanning a small indicator on the glare shield. It shows an amber light if on speed, red if fast and green if slow. A carrier pilot does not flare; you hold the attitude and crash it into the deck.

Once you crunch onto the pitching deck you slam the throttles to full power and cycle in the speed brakes just in case you missed the wire, very embarrassing BTW! It is called a bolter.
Here is another video from the back seat of a T-45 Goshawk. It starts at the abeam position.

You are not done yet! The man in the yellow shirt is going to direct you out of the landing area as you pull up the flaps and fold the wings. He will pass you off to other yellow shirts taxiing you into little tiny spots to park the jet. In the EA-6B Prowler, because the nose gear is behind the cockpit that can mean you are sitting in the cockpit over the water before he turns the jet. Not much fun on a moving deck, especially at night.
Here’s a view from the Landing Signal Officers (LSO) platform; they assist in the “safe and expeditious recovery “and GRADE each pass. BTW if your grades fall below a given level; you go home.

That is the normal text book landing. Now the shit hot pilot does it a bit different. 500 knots indicated at 500 feet as you cross the ship and break at the bow. A 5 g pull slows you as you yank the throttles to idle and extend the speed brakes. Still in a knife edge 90 degree angle of bank turn when you get to the abeam, you toss down the gear and flaps then roll out slightly to 60 degrees angle of bank. Using the excess airspeed you pull the nose to the 90 and as the aircraft squats on speed you’ve got the power running up to maintain it and roll wings level two three power corrections later the cable snatches you from the sky. Now that is fun! It ruined me for roller coasters for life.

Here is a bird’s eye view of a recovery. The aircraft that bolters is an EA-6B (not an A-6A) Prowler from VAQ-135, my old squadron hope it wasn’t me. Imbedding was disabled, however it shows an entire recovery and is worht looking up.

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