It takes an incredible amount of skill to land a plane on an aircraft carrier. Today we’re doing the top five amazing aircraft carrier landings!
Landing a plane on an aircraft carrier flight deck is one of the most difficult things a navy pilot will ever do.
The flight deck only has about 500 feet of runway space for landing planes, which isn’t nearly enough for the heavy, high-speed jets on U.S. carriers.
To land on the flight deck, each plane needs a tailhook, which is exactly what it sounds like — an extended hook attached to the plane’s tail. The pilot’s goal is to snag the tailhook on one of four arresting wires, sturdy cables woven from high-tensile steel wire.
The arresting wires are stretched across the deck and are attached on both ends to hydraulic cylinders below deck. If the tailhook snags an arresting wire, it pulls the wire out, and the hydraulic cylinder system absorbs the energy to bring the plane to a stop.
The arresting wire system can stop a 54,000-pound aircraft traveling 150 miles per hour in only two seconds, in a 315-foot landing area (a 24,500-kg aircraft traveling at 241 kph in a 96-meter landing area).
There are four parallel arresting wires, spaced about 50 feet (15 meters) apart, to expand the target area for the pilot. Pilots are aiming for the third wire, as it’s the safest and most effective target. They never shoot for the first wire because it’s dangerously close to the edge of deck. If they come in too low on the first wire, they could easily crash into the stern of the ship. It’s acceptable to snag the second or fourth wire, but for a pilot to move up through the ranks, he or she has to be able to catch the third wire consistently.
To pull off this incredible trick, the pilot needs to approach the deck at exactly the right angle. The landing procedure starts when the various returning planes “stack up” in a huge oval flying pattern near the carrier.
The Carrier Air Traffic Control Center below deck decides the landing order of the waiting planes based on their various fuel levels (a plane that’s about to run out of fuel comes down before one that can keep flying for a while). When it’s time for a plane to land, the pilot breaks free of this landing pattern and heads toward the stern of the ship.