Sunday, February 16, 2020

Naval Aviation is Hard

An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 32 catches the arresting wire aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during night flight operations in the Arabian Sea on Nov. 22, 2010.
Aviation is not easy, military aviation is hard, naval aviation takes "hard" to a whole new level. Taking off and landing on a small airfield (about the length of a football field) which is moving is challenging enough. Imagine doing it in bad weather when your airfield is:
  1. moving away from you at an angle, 
  2. is pitching up and down at a variable rate, and
  3. is also rolling at a variable rate.

Now just to make it interesting, do it at night. (Yes, the next video is a tad long, but it's well worth your time.)

My son-in-law Big Time does this, my son-in-law Tuttle did this. I have other friends who have been there, done that. Not all of them came home.

Naval aviation is hard.


Great article on landing on a carrier at night here.

In that second video, the scenes in the ready room, that's VFA-94, the squadron Lex commanded, the Shit Hot World Famous Orange Tailed Shrikes.

In that opening photo, that's a bird from VFA-32, the Gypsies, The WSO's first operational squadron.

One more, that's it, for now...

As gentle reader BillB flew Herky-Birds back in the day, but not the gunship variety, I added this one -

Heck, the man may have given me a lift back in my youth, so...

We aims to please.

(But yeah, I'm keeping both...)


  1. I watched the longer video and that brought back a vivid memory of Forrestal doing night quals near Florida.
    The weather was rough and either the deck pitched up, or the pilot was a squeak low, or a combination of both.
    The Phantom lost its landing gear and slid across the deck with the result that both the pilot and the rear seater were killed.
    I've looked for the crash report, but I never found it. That would have been in the later part of my two years aboard her, so call it '75-'76. Or as mentioned the other day, there is a time fold.

    Rightly so, the film and the linked story focused on the complexity of the task and the incredible skill needed to land safely on the pitching deck of the carrier, and doubly so at night.

    But there is so much more to the story. The Navy pilots not only depend on the skills of those who maintain the aircraft they are flying, but there is an extremely complex web (chain?) of other sailors who must do their jobs with dedication and skill, or else the result is a crash.

    In the other flying services, the pilot pushes the throttle and takes off from the large flat space.
    In the Navy, the success of the take off is absolutely linked to a team that includes young enlisted sailors doing their jobs to maintain and operated a complicated catapult system, and the landing involves a huge team effort to get the aircraft safely back onboard.

    The second video skirts the question of whether or not the aircraft should have be launched with the weather the way it was.
    There is a very fine line between "train like you fight" and "this is crazy."

    Great post.

    1. Yes, there is much that goes on before the aircraft ever takes to the air. On a carrier there is the intricate ballet of cat shot and trap, every sailor contributes.

      Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. Even when there’s smooth sailing there’s much risk in landing on a birdfarm at night.
    Remembering tha loss of a WF with four crew during night ops west of the Philippines.
    The bird came im a little low and dod a backflip when the pilot corrected.
    We found only small pieces of finerglass.

  3. I watched both videos. That second one, towards the end where the pilot says after he gets on deck, he finds a nice quiet place to have an aneurysm...I would think I would be having it right in the seat of the airplane once it was back on semi-solid surface!! Talk about having a religious experience with every landing! Yikes!!

  4. Then the Navy's experiment landing a C-130 on a carrier was stretching the envelope.

    1. Watching the carrier qualification videos for the OV-10 was also stretching, sideways (the OV-10 could take off, sideways, off the deck. Weird.

    2. WSF - Oh yes it was. Just like the Doolittle raid stretched the envelope. Those first few B-25s off the deck had nearly zero tolerance for error.

    3. See this clip on YouTube, OV-10 carrier tests on USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) in 1968. No arresting gear must have made for a few cases of hot brakes. (You can see them smoking in the clip.)

      Uh, sideways?

    4. Sarge, did you know that OV-10 Pilots went through the same flight training syllabus as the E-2 bubbas? I had a USMC Captain T-2 flight instructor in VT-86 who was a Bronco pilot, having been to the boat in the T-2 before flying the Bronco.

    5. Did not know that.

      LUSH spent some time in VT-86, fellow NFO and all...

    6. WSF, I heard the only reason that they discontinued landing Herks on floating short fields was that an out of commission Herk would block the whole flight deck, they would be hard to push off the flight deck and would do considerable damage if pushed off. Otherwise, it would be just another day in the life of a short-field qualified Herk driver.

  5. So many people have tried to be successful with carriers. But only three nations got it right during the propeller era, and only three nations got it right during the jet era, though one of those nations quit outright and only recently has returned to the fold, while one of the prop-era giants has been slowly edging into full carrier mode after being denied it.

    Everyone else? Messing around with helo-carriers and vtol/stol carriers is quaint, and a good learning step (as that once great prop-era nation that is now getting ready to return to stol has demonstrated) but full carrier? Still only 1 nation does it right all the way, while the cheese-eaters are piddling around with one, barely, but at least keeping the operational knowledge going.

    The US studies on going back to light carriers? You need almost the same number of sailors of all varieties to run a smaller ship with fewer planes than it takes to run a giant ship with lotsa room for planes. So.. well.. big carriers. With the correct mix of aircraft (we are missing a few modern versions of past aircraft - no long-range air defense/strike, no loiter patrol, no general do-it-well multipurpose aircraft.) Yes, we can suddenly field a whole fleet of STOL carriers like no one else has seen, but STOL doesn't bring the thunder like dedicated 'normal' take off and landing carrier craft can.

    Let us hope we can continue to improve, and fix past mistakes, and actually get our aircraft and our ships up to proper readiness levels.

    1. The fate of the carrier is still being debated in this country. I think we need them, the big deck type. STOL/VTOL? Nope, doesn't cut it.

  6. Carrier ops are the one GREAT challenge.

    While I have done many traps in a flight sim, that can be stressful, but doing an actual trap on a live carrier in less than optimum conditions just leaves me cold to the bone. Never done it and I am unsure if I ever actually want to :-).

    To those that do BZ gentlemen, my respect and admiration for Naval Aviation knows NO bounds :-).

  7. So, scary stuff it is, and BZ (well done) to those who do it.

    Lex had some excellent seat cushion sucking accounts of night landing in Rhythms. Need to post a link for that.

    Now, all that is from the pilot perspective, so it their story and that's how THEY tell it. I bet some of your kinfolk might be able to share the perspective of being along for the ride, and not able to drive from their seat. Guess the GIB (guy/gal in back) has to have a lot of trust in the bus driver. Wonder if there are some they rather not fly with?

    I once got to go out and back on a C1A COD way back when. Great adventure, and I was too young and dumb to realize the risks. Lack of window seats was annoying. ;-)
    John Blackshoe

    1. There are some that backseaters would rather not fly with, word does get around. (The old adage of "never fly with someone braver than yourself" holds true.)

      One of my daughter's first traps with the Gypsies, she was busying herself in the backseat doing WSO stuff when her pilot asked her if she was paying attention...

      The WSO: "Why? I'm not flying. I trust you."

      Pilot: "What if I get disoriented and am about to fly us into the back of the ship?"

      She says she paid rapt attention after that.

  8. It's hard, but I myself have seen Air Force pilots and even Frenchmen do it. It still boggles my mind a bit that when they ran short of FAA pilots, the Brits just said, "Right, you Mustaches are hitting the boat." Mind you, that was with Phantoms and and Buccaneers and landing on carriers not quite up to 27-Charlie class! It's a learned and perishable skill.

    Where to put the line between safety and "train like you fight" is a hard but good question. The line is always moving. We don't presently have any near-peer competition, so the line moved toward safety a couple of generations ago. I suspect that most of today's crews would blanch at the way we operated during the cold war. If the need arose, it could be done today, but there would be a price. It's actually a good question for joe sixpack civilian to think about. What exactly is the threat, how much do you want to mitigate the threat, and what are you willing to pay in taxpayer dollars and ape-lizards?

    Great post!

    1. That's the bottom line right there - "what are you willing to pay in taxpayer dollars and ape-lizards?"

      Joe Sixpack needs to remember just how much responsibility he/she has for where that money goes and what is done in OUR name.

    2. In our failed attempt at stopping the growth of Communism in the sixties and seventies, more than several USAF guys figured out how to do approach end traps en-route home, without training of any substantial kind. Battle damage usually the primary cause for the in-flight re-brief. Espirit d'corps and fear helped in the learning curve. The former helped me the most.

    3. I've seen an approach end trap on Okinawa, an F-4 with some sort of maintenance issue had to use the cable, or the ejection seats.

      They did just fine.

    4. I've done a few Barrier Grab Landings, 2 approach end and a couple of departure ends. Most were in the F-4, including both approach ends. One of the departure ends was in the Eagle at Kwanju. Had a string of Eagles behind me on radar approach, so I delayed checking my brakes a bit, to facilitate clearing the runway. Not a wise move. The gods of aviation decided at that moment to cause my brakes to fail. Didn't have time to try any of the alternates, just slammed the hook down. It missed the departure end normal barrier by an inch. Caught the one in the overrun, I forget the nomenclature, but it's the one attached to an anchor chain. Stopped me pretty fast. It's always embarrassing to be towed back to the revetment.

      I'm sure the engagements on a carrier are a bit more abrupt than an approach engagement on land. It was a bit jarring, but not anything to write home about.

      As to the choice option you propose in the last comment. I choose the former every time, given the choice.

    5. As to your last, yes indeed. Easier on the back and the taxpayer gets to keep the jet in operation.

  9. Readers might find this study on CV ops of interest:
    The Self-Designing High-Reliability Organization: Aircraft Carrier Flight Operations at Sea by Gene I. Rochlin, Todd R. La Porte, and Karlene H. Roberts

  10. (Don McCollor)…(Found It)… [20 minutes]...Marine aviator Rand McNally taking a barrier trap at night on USS Ranger...Don't know who sounds calmer, the LSO or the pilot. A long wait -then the plane is just right there!!!...

  11. Landing on a carrier is a (barely) controlled crash at best! It's amazing how much punishment the aircraft takes.

    And the final lines from "The Bridges at Toko Ri" always come to mind....Where Do We Find Such men?

  12. Thanks OldAFSarge, that picture is beautiful in its own way. I have a few thousand hours in those beasts both high and low. I think they will be around till past the middle if not till the end of this century.

    1. I think the C-130 will outlive us all!

    2. When the last C-47 is delivered to a museum somewhere, the crew will probably get a ride home in a C-130.


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