At the end of a mission, planes return to the ship one of two ways:
- The standard Case I approach during the day in good weather
- Case III, at night or during poor weather
(Case II is a mix of the other two types and is used when the weather is “so-so”).
Both I and III have standard procedures, routes, and altitudes that all aircraft in the Air Wing obey to ensure a safe and effective recovery of all aircraft involved.
Additionally, aircraft returning to the carrier is under the watchful radar scope of air traffic controllers located in what is known as CATTC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center).
Fighter jet landing On An Aircraft Carrier On A Stormy Night
Assume there is a broken layer of clouds at about 2,000 feet above the water with scattered layers all the way up to 15,000 feet, along with some thunderstorms nearby. The sea state has begun to pick up and the ship is pitching considerably.
Landing Signal Officers (LSOs) give a few screaming “POWER!” calls to those planes currently trying to land.
The pilot in the air pushes the aircraft nose over and begins your descent to 5000 feet,
what is referred to as “platform” altitude, headed towards the ship. At night, the below platform is always a dangerous place to be. The “platform” call is a safety reminder of where you are.
On a clear night, the pilot can spot the conga line of aircraft out in front of you, their night lights blinking softly against a backdrop of darkness. Not so on a stormy night. Layers of clouds obscure any real vision pilot might have. This is a full-instrument approach to a landing that will need all of your skill and attention.
At ten miles from the ship, the Pilot stop descent at 1,200 feet above sea level and report his position to CATCC
Which says to “stay clean thru 10.” They are trying to help with the spacing of multiple aircraft in front of you.
The pilot holds off on changes to the landing configuration until just before 8 miles.
‘Once your TACAN displays 8 miles from carrier pilot quickly run through the landing checklist.
Landing gear and flaps come down along with the arresting hook. You double-check all of those settings and note your fuel state. You are still 6 miles away from the ship, but it is less than 2 minutes until you make your first pass.
What is Bullseye and ACLS landing system?
Landing System, or the “Bullseye.” This is an aircraft system that receives glideslope, azimuth, and elevation signals that are converted into “fly-to” indications (needles) on the pilot’s Heads-Up Display (HUD).
Then an additional system called the Automatic Carrier Landing System (ACLS) locks onto the aircraft and provides similar information.
What is main Difference B/w Bullseye and ACLS landing system?
The main difference between the two systems is ACLS is a two-way communication handshake from the ship to the aircraft and back, while ILS is only a one-way communication—ship to the aircraft. Both provide azimuth and glideslope information, but the ACLS is more accurate.
ACLS and ILS are used in conjunction to lower you to a good “start” position—meaning on the centerline, intercepting the glideslope at approximately ¾ mile behind the ship at 360 feet above the water with a 650 to 750 feet-per-minute rate of descent, and a controlled on-speed (not too fast, not too slow). The optimum rate of descent will vary with glideslope angle, approach speed, and headwind component, and timely corrections to the rate of descent will be critical to your success.
Remember, the runway in front of you is a moving target, so getting to a good start is a must. There is very little time to make corrections once you get closer to the ship. You carefully position your aircraft, using slight stick and throttle modifications with information from the HUD to get to a good start.
At ¾ of a mile from the ship, CATCC hands control of your aircraft to the Landing Signal Officers perched alongside the landing area. The communication goes something like this:
CATCC: “101, on the course, on glide path, ¾ mile, call the ball.”
Aircraft: “101, Tomcat ball, 5.0.”
LSOs: “Roger, ball, deck’s moving, you’re a little high.”
The pilot quickly focuses on the glideslope indicator on the port side of the ship, referred to as the “meatball.”
With the rough seas and the subsequent pitching deck, it is difficult to discern your glideslope position using the meatball.
Pilots have to listen to the LSOsm, who will verify their position via radio calls.
The aircraft carrier is big, so big that most waves don’t affect the ship at all.
But on a stormy night, it’s a little different. As large swells pass the ship, the stern falls slowly, pitching the bow up above the horizon.
The pilot’s brain has been trained to look at a fixed object, but with such a dramatic change in the landing area, it gets confused.
Another swell passes behind the ship, and the stern begins to slowly pitch up. Frighteningly, the stern is now staring at you instead of the landing area. The stern stays up at its highest point for 1 to 2 seconds.
The pilot descends down toward the landing area, At touchdown, he hears a slight “ping, ping” sound, but feels no arrestment.
The pilot immediately double-checks that you are at military power, holds your aircraft attitude, and begins to climb away.
Departure control gives pilot vectors back into the pattern. CATTC hooks you back into the direction of the ship with a steering vector. It is time to repeat the process.
Methodically, you go through the same procedures, configuring your aircraft properly to land, carefully flying what your HUD is telling you to do, and praying that the ship finds a moment of calm when you get there.
You arrive at ¾ of a mile behind the ship a pick up the meatball. You are confident and cautiously optimistic.
The optical landing system aka “The Meatball.”
From this position, there are only about 20 seconds to touchdown. The pilot continues to focus on the meatball, listening to the LSOs give you a soft “little power” call.
Pilots adjust fighter jet throttles ever so slightly and find an angle of attack to keep the aircraft just above glideslope.
As the pilot gets closer, the plane descends over the stern of the ship and down into the landing area.
The few ship lights whiz past. At the moment of touchdown, the pilot already has the throttles at full military power.
There is a split-second where the pilot is waiting for that feeling of deceleration, knowing the hook has grabbed a wire.
This is the moment that separates carrier aviators from all others.
Pilots feel the deceleration first in their shoulder harness straps, then their head, and finally, their whole body as they violently move forward in the ejection seat.
The aircraft tugs on the wire and pulls it out like a rubber band, bringing you to a violent—but very welcome—stop.
The initial feeling is a sense of relief, followed by a recognition of just how difficult that entire evolution was.
Pilot notices your knees shaking as you retract the arresting hook and flaps, and then taxi out of the landing area.
Congratulations on a successful landing. You have added a thick layer to your aviator soul. Somewhere decks below you the ready room is playing “Ring of Fire.”
F-14 Tomcat carrier landing tutorial plus PLAT footage.
Fighter jets cycle on an Aircraft carrier
Under normal flight operations, the ship has 10 to 12 aircraft airborne during what is known as a “cycle” Each cycle lasts about an hour and a half.
The ship launches airplanes at the start of each cycle to clear the flight deck, giving the deck crew enough space to reposition the remaining aircraft for the next recovery. Space is a premium item aboard the carrier, and anything you can do to acquire more of it—like launching aircraft—is done quickly and efficiently.
Arresting wires on an Aircraft carrier
There are four arresting wires on Nimitz class ships. An arresting hook from the respective aircraft catches one of the four wires, bringing the plane from 150 mph to a complete stop in about 1.5 seconds. Naval Aviators call it a “controlled crash.”
The most aft wire on the ship is the #1 wire. The most forward wire is #4. The target wire is #3. You always try to avoid #1 because it is uncomfortably close to the back end of the ship.
Truthfully, catching any of them is considered a success. While each pilot is graded on each pass at the ship, this business is difficult enough that pretty much any arrested landing is a welcome return.
What happens when an aircraft hits the landing area of the deck
When an aircraft hits the landing area of the deck, the pilot sets the throttles to full military power. The pilot does this so that, should the aircraft misses the wires, it will still have enough power to get airborne again. Failing to catch a wire and subsequently getting airborne again is referred to as a bolter.
Failing to catch a wire and not getting airborne again results in an ejection.
What is the Bolter pattern and tanker pattern?
The bolter pattern is a level oval racetrack pattern above the ship that aircraft enter after an attempted landing. If an aircraft needs to get gas, the pilot elevates to the tanker pattern, which is located above the bolter pattern.
What is Marshall Stack
The complex holding pattern aircraft initially enter during nighttime and adverse weather conditions is called the “Marshall Stack.”
Altitude between patterns is the primary method of separation. To keep track of all this, the departure and recovery status boards, along with a graphic depiction of the pattern called “Mr. Hands,” reflect in real-time the location of every aircraft that is airborne.
When an aircraft checks in with the marshal controller in CATCC, it provides a fuel state and side number. “State” is the term used to define how much gas you have left. Instead of saying your tank is half full, pilots express their fuel remaining in pounds, which is shortened to two numbers. For example, if a Hornet with aircraft side number 301 has 6,500 lbs of gas remaining, the pilot would say
In just a few seconds, the pilot has instructions on where to hold position behind the boat (240 radial at 21 miles at 6000 feet), what recovery pattern to use, and when he will have to hit the “push point” (22 minutes after the hour).
Note that each plane’s fuel state is added on at the end of a radio transmission because aircraft fuel state is one of the most critical pieces of information.
Fuel states are tracked excruciatingly close by AIROPS and pilots are normally asked to “update state” every ten minutes. Many times a carrier may not be within range of a suitable divert airfield, meaning the only place to land is the ship—this is referred to as “blue water ops.” Fuel is expressed in pounds because aircraft weight (basic aircraft weight plus fuel on board) determines the tension setting for the arresting gear.
Prior to each aircraft landing, the tension for the arresting gear is adjusted to the maximum weight of that aircraft. Additionally, distances to divert airfields are referenced by the amount of gas required to fly there. If a pilot needed to divert, or “bingo”, he would depart the aircraft carrier pattern at the fuel state required to fly to that field.
AIROPS is the carrier’s hub for all-night flying activity. There are two status boards in AIROPS: one that tracks every plane launched and one that tracks every plane about to recover. Fuel states, an aircraft mission, pilot names, aircraft side numbers, landing attempts, and any miscellaneous information is displayed on these status boards, which are then piped through the ship’s internal TV system for everyone to see.
On the ship’s internal TV, there’s also a platform camera that shows a view from the landing area looking back to the stern of the ship. This channel is always on throughout the ship, including the bridge, AIROPS, and Primary Flight Control, where the Air Boss sits. It is also shown in all the ready rooms. Pilots routinely watch their buddies coming down for a trap or use it as a debriefing tool to see how their pass went.