Hello, this is the captain; The pilot lowered gently and the shadow of his plane grew on the surface of the water, flickering like a gray wind among the waves. His eyes darted between the hands of the clocks, his hands grasping the rudders as they continually made such rapid corrections that they seemed to tremble.
“Slower”, “a little to the left”, came instructions from the walkie-talkie, and the aircraft carrier that half a minute ago was a small square in the window had already filled it completely. “left!” The device yelled, “Abort landing!” And the pilot was not enough; The plane crashed into the deck of the mighty ship, and was engulfed in a ball of fire.
This description feels a bit hollow, lacking; It is also suitable for wooden and fabric planes from the 1920s, also forZero The glorified World War II, too The Panther of the FiftiesToPhantom of the Vietnam War, toF14 of the eighties and nineties, toF18 who succeeded him andF35 of today. Look what it is; The planes change, the technologies leap forward, and pilots still crash on aircraft carriers.
What is so complicated here? After all, the plane moves much faster than the ship, and it’s not like it will run aside just before touching the deck. Today we will understand what remains so difficult about landing on a ship – something that humanity has been practicing for more than a hundred years.
Back in 1909 he published Clement Ader, the pioneer of motorized flight, a book that described a ship with a flat deck underneath a hangar, a portable airfield. There is no shortage of books with interesting ideas, but Eder’s was too good to remain on paper: within two years the US Navy began experiments with such a thing.
There were ships that got a runway, or they towed one and it turned out that if the runway is long enough, there are cables on it and the tail of the plane has a hook. They shared them – it is definitely possible to land on a ship.
Soon they devised a method: to land on the ship, it must sail against the wind and ease the plane by slowing down; The glide path to the landing will be shallow and gradual, and a signal officer will stand on the deck and indicate with flags which repairs the pilot needs to make. The movements of the flags showed when to climb and when to lower, which way to turn and whether to slow down or speed up.
In the 1930s, more and more countries equipped themselves with such aircraft issues, which included methods for landing, and saw that the method works – as long as the pilots are skilled enough, the visibility is excellent, the weather is perfect, and not a single butterfly gets up in the morning and decides to check if the effect on his name is real.
Of course, the world doesn’t work that way, and with the outbreak of World War II, it became clear that no method was good enough: aircraft carriers fought each other, and the operational load wore down both pilots and planes. The number of landing accidents skyrocketed.
In the 1950s, the situation became even more complicated: the jet planes entered the picture, whose engines responded more slowly to throttle commands and had difficulty slowing down. Although they sailed great, they did not excel in take-offs and landings; The engine produced relatively low thrust, requiring a long takeoff run and landing at a very shallow angle. All the methods developed and adapted for piston planes since 1911 have become irrelevant.
And it did: the new hot trend was aircraft carriers with sloping decks; The idea is to allow aircraft to take off and land from them at the same time, and to give great flexibility to the naval forces. These ships created a huge challenge and complicated the landing: for thirty years the pilots lowered the ship’s path, advanced behind it and corrected the course as needed to the sides and height.
But in a ship with a sloping deck, there are two different angles: the one where the aircraft carrier is moving forward, and the one of the deck. And it is much more difficult to lower to it and maintain the angle; It is inclined to the left in relation to the axis of the ship’s movement and will therefore always “move” to the right.
The British officer Nicholas Goodhart found the solution, inspired by his clerk’s make-up mirror: in it a large metal mirror, with a spotlight directed to the center. The angle at which the pilot will see the point of light reflected in the mirror will make it clear to him in which direction he must maneuver; The searchlight and mirror sat exactly in line with the landing deck, so if the pilot saw the light in the center of the fixture, he knew it was exactly aligned with the runway.
Later, a row of green and red lights was added to the system, showing the pilot specific repairs he must make, and the mirror was replaced by a powerful lamp. The facility was called OLS (Optical Landing System) and allowed pilots to land on the inclined decks with great precision, even at night.
In those days it was thought that the landing signal officer would become a redundant position; If the pilot sees the necessary repairs, it is enough for him to talk to the ship’s control tower.--
But it quickly became clear that the guy on board was essential: you see, for us aircraft carrier She is a hundred thousand ton piece of steel monster, something colossal. But for the ocean she is nothing – and the waves shake her like a bath toy.
The signal officer standing on the runway feels the ship with his feet, and can tell exactly which direction the deck is starting to tilt – and thus warned the pilots long before the device showed them movement.
So we saw that there is a method that has been working for many, many years. What else is complicated about landing on the ship? Well, the plane itself. It must be designed from the start for landing on aircraft carriers.
The approach to landing can be made in all kinds of ways, depending on the plane and the route. If you approach to land at a very moderate angle, the lowering will be gradual and gentle, but the speed at which there will be contact with the ground will be high and you will arrive with a lot of momentum. Therefore, you will have to run on the runway longer and slow down – for example, like passenger planes do.
If you come at a very steep angle, the descent will be almost a fall, the contact with the ground will be a strong blow – after which the plane will lose a lot of its momentum and will be able to stop quickly. An aircraft carrier is a bit of a challenge in this context, because the runway is very short and you have to both lower gradually and stop quickly.
Therefore, planes are designed for ships with wheels that have suspensions, tires and shock absorbers that know how to absorb Akbar-Mecha without breaking or damaging the chassis and the pilot.
In addition, the planes are designed with wide wings that produce a lot of lift at low altitude and with scales and large shelves that will facilitate maneuvering and deceleration. The plane should come very low and very slowly, and be easy to control at this time.
And at the moment of contact with the track, the hook we talked about entered the picture. It is an extremely strong rod whose function is to grab one of three-four cables, which are flexibly connected to the deck. Why flexible? Because otherwise, the stop will be almost at once and no one wants to start the day in the shape of a pilot and end up as a mashed potato with a helmet.
And yet, despite all the experience, the technology, the tested methods, the fine engineering and the excellent training – landing accidents on aircraft carriers happen even today, and to the best. And as in the past, the accident rate increases in times of operational load and challenging weather.
Simply because landing requires a huge level of concentration, and the pilot has to be precise in deceleration and approach right up to the last second. wrong? It might be enough to open the throttle, get up in time and try again. If not, he will crash on the deck or continue into the water, abandon and very much hope not to fall in the path where the ship will run him over.
But wait, we are in the 21st century; Why wouldn’t it be automatic? There is no LandGPT? Theoretically, it is possible to create a completely autonomous landing situation: the ship’s computer will activate sensors that will understand exactly where the waves are taking it, will control the autopilot and the plane will know how to repair itself.
And in the cockpit the crew will be able to sit and enjoy the view, and of course land safely even after an exhausting mission or with a damaged plane. It will also be possible to free up a lot of training time and save on the Navy’s budget.
But unfortunately the technology is not mature enough. Not because of automation matters – airplanes have been landing themselves since 1937. Simply, an aircraft carrier is a sensitive case, and an automatic landing on it requires a 100% reliable communication and computing infrastructure – and everyone knows that only the teacher and God have a hundred.
What is so sensitive? Look, an F18 lands at a speed of around 200 km/h on a crowded deck full of aircraft, bombs and fuel lines. Any malfunction will immediately turn into a disaster; imagine bowling, but with airplanes.
Bottom line, landing on aircraft carriers is still a challenge despite the progress and remains a very manual operation – requiring supreme skill, and a combination of smart machines and smart people. Have a nice flight!