Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier — Leave the landing light on

“Well actu­al­ly it’s both the Air­craft Car­ri­er Alliance [ACA] and the Joint Com­bat Air­craft Team,” he said. “From the air­craft side the team has to be sat­is­fied it is safe to oper­ate the air­craft at sea effi­cient­ly. So in terms of the JCA safe­ty case, it is crit­i­cal that we are able to demon­strate safe F‑35C recov­ery oper­a­tions.

“From the ACA per­spec­tive, we have to prove that the ship is safe to oper­ate the aero­plane so we have to pro­vide suf­fi­cient visu­al land­ing aids to demon­strate to our safe­ty case that it works. Both teams must be con­fi­dent that what we will be putting on the deck works. We will be mak­ing sure it is a win/win for both teams.”

Land­ing on the new car­ri­ers — what the pilot sees

Air­craft approach the stern as the car­ri­er steams into the wind. Pilots aim for the sec­ond or third of the arrestor wires — the safest, most effec­tive tar­get.

The BAE Sys­tems’ sim­u­la­tor at Warton — from left: the sim­u­la­tor con­troller, the view of the sim­u­lat­ed air­craft, and the pilot in the cock­pit [Pic­tures: Andrew Lin­nett, Crown Copyright/MOD]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Air­craft are guid­ed by deck per­son­nel — the Land­ing Sig­nal Offi­cers — via radio and the col­lec­tion of lights on deck.

When the air­craft has land­ed the pilot pow­ers up the engines to make sure that, if the tail­hook does­n’t catch a wire, the plane is mov­ing fast enough to take off again.

Pilots will look at the Improved Fres­nel Lens Opti­cal Land­ing Sys­tem for guid­ance — a series of lights and lens­es on a gyro­scop­i­cal­ly-sta­bilised plat­form.

Lens­es focus light into nar­row beams direct­ed into the sky at var­i­ous angles. Pilots will see dif­fer­ent lights depend­ing on the plane’s angle of approach. On tar­get, the pilot will see an amber light in line with a row of green lights.

If the amber light is above the green, the plane is too high; below green it is too low. Much too low and the pilot will see red lights.

So how did I do? My first attempt saw my F‑35 scream way past the car­ri­er, too fast, too high, and with no hope of land­ing. A sec­ond was just as way­ward, over­shoot­ing and just miss­ing the island super­struc­tures, neces­si­tat­ing a stom­ach-churn­ing go-around.

A third and final approach need­ed a last-sec­ond drop in height, allow­ing me to find the last of the arrestor wires, end­ing in a land­ing more akin to Fos­bury than any of the elite pilots who have been using the sim­u­la­tor for their land­ings.

The flight deck has about 250 metres of run­way dis­tance for land­ing air­craft. A run­way on land would be around 12 times longer. And does­n’t move.

Land­ing on a car­ri­er deck pitch­ing up and down by up to 30 feet (9m) in a rough sea can be daunt­ing enough. A pilot has to place the aircraft’s tail­hook in a pre­cise part of the deck 150 feet (46m) long by 30 feet (9m) wide to catch the arrestor wires, and do it at night too.

The arrest­ing wire sys­tem can stop a 25-tonne air­craft trav­el­ling at 150 miles per hour (240km/h) in just two sec­onds in a 300-feet (90m) land­ing area. Decel­er­a­tion is up to 4Gs.

This arti­cle is tak­en from the Jan­u­ary 2012 edi­tion of desider — the mag­a­zine for Defence Equip­ment and Sup­port.

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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