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landing on an aircraft carrier

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Giggity giggity goo!!!
Oct 20, 2004
is there any sort of an ILS or aid to help pilots landing on a carrier, or is it all visual? i can't imagine. i'm watching a show about aircraft carriers on the history channel and it's amazing. 2.15 crashes per 100,000 landings on a carrier. to me, that seems pretty good!!! the host said that the pilots have to land on the centerline due to space constraints and the margin of error is 5 feet to either side. i'd have killed myself LOOOOOOOOONG ago, if that's the case!!
Long time ago

I am a rookie when it comes to landing on aircraft carriers; I only have 25 landings. My experiences come from flying the C1A aboard the USS Enterprise back in the 70's. Back in those days the ships still had their own COD attached to the ship for ship's comapny to fly. I was a CQ co-pilot. I got to make landings when there was no passengers on board. We never carried pax at night or IFR so all my landings were day VFR. I believe at that time if it was IFR, you got a CCA, which was a precision radar approach to a 1/4-mile. The primary visual aid is the thing called the "Meatball" which is a orange ball of light that when aligned with the green reference lights puts you on the proper Glideslope for the ship. You just looked out the window, kept the meatball in the center with power, worked to stay on centerline there was no cross wind, and worked airspeed with nose attitude. You never looked at the ship or the landing area because it is moving away from you and creates an optical illusion. The visual Glideslope will vary with the speed of ship through the water to make 25KT across the deck. You did not flare, when the cut lights came on, you just cut the power and flew into the ship and caught a wire. Our approach speed was 92 Kts, so with 25 Kts of wind across the deck the closure rate was not all that fast. As far a being off of center line some airplanes it was very critical because of wing span, but I also remember something about an off center engagement of the arresting wire causing undo stress on the arresting gear. It was fun, and the Cat shot was the real thrill.
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There is a precision approach called ACLS. It's basically like ILS needles, and you fly it like an ILS. Can also be coupled to an auto-throttle/autoland function on some birds. Not to many guys I've talked to trust the system. I've heard of near ramp strikes with centered needles using the system. As far as flying the ball, the old lens had 5 cells top to bottom. Basically a very precise VASI. At 3/4 of a mile it's about 20' full scale from high ball to low, and at the ramp 4' from top to bottom. The new "I-flaws" (I can't remember how to spell the acronym) has something like 12 cells and is MUCH more sensitive. Before when you rolled out in the groove at 3/4 mile, with a centered ball (hopefully), you didn't know if you were on the high side or low side of that center cell. With the new lens there's no question. Kind of looks like LED lights rather than just a big yellow ball. As far as actually flying the ball, it's all power. High ball, pull power, low add power. You're constantly adjusting your AOA with the nose. Fast, a little nose up, slow, nose down. So if you have something like a low ball, and a fast indication, just leave the power, pull a little nose up to get your on-speed AOA and center the ball. There are 100 little adjustments like that to be made in the 18 seconds you're in the groove. 2.15 in 100K is more like the accident rate per flight hours, sounds way to low for actual landings, but whadda I know?

As far as wing tip clearance in the LA, it's all about what you're flying. It is pretty tight for a COD or E-2 guy, but if you're talking about a T-45 that has stubby little wings, it's plenty of room. They generally don't send guys to the boat if they think their gonna kill themselves, but crap does still happen.
What happens when the deck is pitching? I have an idea but I dont want to make a fool of myself :D
The thing gets harder to land on... LSO's can also give you corrections as the deck pitches, and tell you to ignore certain things you see. Say if the deck were to pitch up, you see a wicked low ball, and make a huge power correction, deck pitches down, now you're clara high. They'll give you sugar calls to get you aboard.

The LSO's can also take manual control of the ball so that as the deck pitches, what you're seeing on the ball dosen't change. They show you what they want you to see on the lens. Trust paddles, paddles is always right....
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I wish I had as much room as they do on a carrier to land. It is like an airport. If as they say, a Navy pilot has to land on a postage stamp, Coast Guard pilots have to land on the fringe of a postage stamp. My rotor blades hang over the side of the ship even when I land dead center.

Just a friendly dig from a helo bubba. I have the utmost respect for anyone landing on a carrier.
sardaddy said:
Just a friendly dig from a helo bubba. I have the utmost respect for anyone landing on a carrier.
Hehehe... must be nice to hang out, hover, and observe before you make your approach. 130 knots and 15 seconds in the groove dosen't give you much time to plan an attack. :) (For the record, I plan on finding a way to spend my MGIB money on helo ratings... just for the fun of it.)
Postage stamp...ha ha....and I struggle to put the Kc-135 down in the first 3000 ft.. I have to say, carrier guys must have a huge set of brass one's, but nothing else!
Postage Stamp?

Postage stamp? CVNs are big; I did my first landings on a 27C, now those were tiny. Lets see if I remember correctly, CVN-65 it is 200' to the one wire, 27C it is 75' to the one wire. I did my first landings on CVS-15, in a T-28 you go out solo, total flight time around 125 hours. You deck launch after you land, meaning no cat shot. I remember the words of the instructor briefing on take off procedure, "When the end of ship disappears in front of your nose, pull the stick as far back as you can, do not look at the airspeed indicator, it will not show anything". So I followed his instructions, but I did look at the airspeed indicator, he was right it did not show anything. What an adventure.
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The ILS on the boat is called TRN-28, gives you needles similar to the ILS system, ACLS is a system that can link to the aircraft for a automatic "hands free landing", this system has a deck compensate feature that will adjust for pitching seas.

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