Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier — Leave the landing light on

The deck of the new Queen Eliz­a­beth Class air­craft car­ri­ers may be the size of four foot­ball pitch­es and sup­port­ed by the best part of 65,000 tonnes of steel but, from three miles (5km) out, when viewed through the BAE Sys­tems sim­u­la­tor at Warton, it’s tiny and the tar­get area for land­ing looks even small­er. Report by Steve Moore.

A pilot approach­es the deck of one of the Queen Eliz­a­beth Class air­craft car­ri­ers using the BAE Sys­tems sim­u­la­tor at Warton [Pic­ture: Andrew Lin­nett, Crown Copyright/MOD]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Add in your 150-knot (278km/h) speed, a keen wind, a rolling sea state, a touch of mist, a black night, and you can see why land­ing an air­craft on a ship is prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult task most pilots will ever face. 

Wel­come to the deck of one of the Queen Eliz­a­beth Class air­craft car­ri­ers, due in ser­vice by the end of the decade. Well, not quite the real car­ri­er, which is under con­struc­tion at Rosyth. This is BAE Sys­tems’ sim­u­la­tor at Warton, the only one in the world where the F‑35 air­craft meets the future pride of the 2020 Roy­al Navy. 

But this is not about train­ing pilots, nor hon­ing the skills of the per­son­nel whose deck-based task is to guide the air­craft in safely. 

This is about design­ing the flight deck, mak­ing sure its mas­sive array of coloured lights and lens­es, deck mark­ings and arrestor gear make for the safest envi­ron­ment for recov­er­ing the aircraft. 

Tests are at an advanced stage using US Navy F‑18 pilots, huge­ly expe­ri­enced in tak­ing off from and land­ing on carriers. 

This is some­thing new for the UK. Our car­ri­ers, remem­ber, have oper­at­ed the short take off and ver­ti­cal land­ing (STOVL) Har­ri­ers for more than a gen­er­a­tion. Skills in land­ings are, shall we say, a lit­tle rusty. 

Tests will inform the Air­craft Car­ri­er Alliance on design of the deck. With every sim­u­lat­ed land­ing, Defence Equip­ment and Support’s Joint Com­bat Air­craft Team learns more about the behav­iour of the F‑35’s Car­ri­er Vari­ant (CV), the F‑35C, which the UK will be oper­at­ing — a deci­sion firmed up by the Strate­gic Defence and Secu­ri­ty Review. 

The sim­u­la­tor at BAE Sys­tems in Warton is host­ing tests to design the deck of the Queen Eliz­a­beth Class carriers: 

“Basi­cal­ly we are deal­ing with a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent method of land­ing,” said Pete Symonds of the Air­craft Car­ri­er Alliance. 

“With STOVL land­ing you stop and land; CV land­ing is land and stop. So it’s a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent set of lights in com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent posi­tions. Then the air­craft is dif­fer­ent. We’ve built a new mod­el into the sys­tem as clear­ly the con­trol laws are dif­fer­ent with many dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics includ­ing an arrestor hook.” 

The team has adapt­ed well to the changes though: 

“From the ship point of view it has been an eas­i­er task to organ­ise the light­ing sys­tem as we are now fol­low­ing how the Amer­i­cans do it. The Amer­i­can lay­outs have been our start­ing point and we’re try­ing to improve on them,” said Mr Symonds. 

“And we’re helped by the fact that the actu­al size of the car­ri­er flight deck was dri­ven by the require­ment to be adapt­able. The STOVL ship could have been small­er but the adapt­able design was dri­ven by the size of the run­way, which was need­ed to recov­er the aircraft. 

“We’ve tak­en the flight deck, and start­ed again. After the deci­sion was made to move to the Car­ri­er Vari­ant we had a peri­od of look­ing at vari­able equip­ment selec­tion before we start­ed the work. 

“We now have the flight deck at what we call lev­el two matu­ri­ty, so effec­tive­ly the big bits are already fixed. The design of the flight deck is pret­ty well sorted.” 

Test­ing will soon move to oth­er sim­u­la­tors to test recov­ery of heli­copters to the carriers. 

From the Joint Com­bat Air­craft (JCA) Team’s point of view the F‑35C will be equal­ly capa­ble from sea or land: 

“The cur­rent focus for the JCA Team is ensur­ing the air­craft is inte­grat­ed onto the car­ri­er in the most opti­mal way,” said Wing Com­man­der Willy Hack­ett, the team’s UK Require­ments Manager. 

“This air­craft will be the first stealth plat­form to oper­ate from an air­craft car­ri­er, which will bring new chal­lenges. Recov­er­ing an air­craft to a small mov­ing air­field, espe­cial­ly at night or in poor weath­er, has always focused the mind of any pilot who has flown at sea. 

“The F‑35 will bring new tech­nol­o­gy which in time will make land­ing on an air­craft car­ri­er just anoth­er rou­tine part of the mis­sion. On entry into ser­vice the air­craft will be equipped with the Joint Pre­ci­sion Approach and Land­ing Sys­tem [JPALS] which will guide the air­craft down to a point where the pilot can take over and land the air­craft manually. 

“Future upgrades intend to allow JPALS to actu­al­ly land the air­craft with­out pilot input in very poor weather.” 

He added: 

“A new flight con­trol sys­tem, com­bined with new sym­bol­o­gy in the hel­met-mount­ed dis­play, looks to dras­ti­cal­ly reduce pilot work­load on a man­u­al­ly flown approach. 

“This tech­nol­o­gy is being inves­ti­gat­ed by the US and UK, and if suc­cess­ful will see a major reduc­tion in the train­ing required to keep pilots com­pe­tent at land­ing on air­craft car­ri­ers from the mid­dle of the next decade. 

“Once this new tech­nol­o­gy is invest­ed in the F‑35C the pilot will be able to focus on the mis­sion to an even greater extent than is pos­si­ble now in the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of car­ri­er vari­ant aircraft. 

UK JCA squadrons will there­fore be more oper­a­tional­ly focused than cur­rent gen­er­a­tion sea-based air­craft and will keep UK air pow­er at the front rank of mil­i­tary powers.” 

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefence.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

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