Day and Night Aircraft Carrier Landings (split screen)

I’ve often been asked the difference: Day is basically a race track pattern; a flight enters the break at 800 feet and after passing the carrier turns hard to the down wind. In the break the jet decelerates to landing gear and flap speed and configures for landing. The Aviator then flies the pattern 600 feet above the water arriving abeam the ship (going the opposite direction) and begins a descending turn. 200-300 feet per minute until the 90 position (halfway thru turn) and 25-27 degrees angle of bank. the scan is all instruments at this point. At the 90, at 450 feet descent is increased to 500 fpm it is also where the Naval Aviator starts the transition to the ball and ship for line up and glide slope reference. After crossing the ships wake at 325-375 feet he/she transitions to the ship for reference only, except for angle of attack which is represented by a light indexer on the glare shield (dashboard) approximately a 2 inch by half inch rectangle. The lights and chevrons are arranged like the below diagram.

v (green) means your slow.
O (amber) means you are on speed/proper angle of attack.
^ (red) means you are fast.

SHIT-HOT Day pattern: You fall out of the overhead at full power turning tight at the end of the ship, 500 knots of indicated airspeed or more. As you flash over the ship you snap your jet into a 90 degree angle of bank 5 g turn pulling for the beam. Power at idle speed brakes out, at 250 knots gear flaps down. By now you are at the abeam with 250 indicated and 60 degrees angle of bank of turn. By pulling hard for the 90 position you bleed off 100 knots, as the airspeed reduces you push the throttles to mid range, crossing the wake the engines spool up as the aircraft squats on speed. A couple of quick corrections as needed the deck crosses beneath you again and you trap on board. Immediately you go to full throttle and flick in the speed brakes with your thumb, nearing the play out of the cable you jerk the throttles to idle so that you bounce the tail hook free and raise the flaps. when the flight deck Handler gives you the signal you raise the hook and already have the wings folding. you do not want to shit in the wires (get out of landing area slowly) because as you look over your right shoulder taxiing clear your wingman is in the groove (short final).

Night; a dark moonless night. Only Tail Hookers really understand it; really grasp the stress. It starts in the Marshall stack, a holding pattern. You are given a push time and have to hit the push point plus or minus 10 seconds. Next the penetration, or descent. 5,000 feet per minute into a black abyss leveling at 1,200 feet above the water on a TACAN (VOR/DME) approach. At 15 miles you arc until reaching the final approach course. Turning in toward the ship you pick up the ILS. For the pilots reading this; it is all raw data, no FMS, nothing. #2 needle on RMI and then transition to raw data ILS needles; no auto pilot and back in my day no auto throttles. At three miles you descend at 600 feet per minute keeping the needles centered on your artificial horizon. At 3/4’s of a mile you transition to scanning the ship for “meat ball, line up, looking through your angle of attack on the glare shield. The old guys didn’t; most realized you were to far out for precise info and went back on the needles until you couldn’t stand it. Through out all approaches Landing Signal Officers are giving advice as well as commands from a platform, port side, next to the landing area. You can here their voices on the videos. In close the wind coming over the ship will curl off the water and try to push the aircraft high…reversing as it crosses the ramp the wind tries to suck you down. Its called the burble. The Naval Aviator must scan the meatball all the way to touch down, line up is maintained with peripheral vision. A side note: because the landing area is at an angle, even on a straight in the center line moves to the right for the entire approach. Once the aircraft trapsa aboard the pilot flicks off the lights with his thumb, raise the flaps handle and hook folds the wings and gets out of the way ASAP. And now the scariest part…night taxiing.

SHIT HOT Night Patter: Not landing on one wire (verbotten), not boltering or getting waved off (sent around for another atempt) and not crashing.

Meat ball, line up, angle of attack.

That is the priority of the scan; however it can be misleading because you HAVE to do it all.

Meat ball: is glide slope, the term refers to the lights (Fresnel lens) you can see on the port side (left) amid ship (middle). The ball is the yellow center and moves vertically (red at the bottom), the datum line is the green horizontal lights. The yellow ball tells the pilot what his glide slope is; the object is to keep the yellow ball lined up with the green datum lights. Just prior to touch down that is about 2 feet either direction. Tight! Two high you miss the wires and bolter (go around), too low is much worse you hit the end of the ship. That is called a ramp strike.

Line-up: is course, the painted center line of the landing area, at night the center line of lights in the box. It also is critical; in the split screen you can see an aircraft parked on the left. Normally there are aircraft lining both sides of the landing area. Ten feet off line up in an EA-6B or E-2 and you will put your wing tip into the ray-domes (nose) of parked jets or worse.

Angle of Attack (airspeed): any pilot knows airspeed is critical. In Naval Aviation it is even more important. The aircraft must be at a very exact angle so the hook can grab a wire. Too fast, the hook will bounce over the wires. Too slow can be disastrous.

Sequencing by the ships crew is critical:

It can be much worse if it gets off by just a few seconds:

Some times even when you do everything right, its just not your day.


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