Naval Aircraft Problems

Airplanes operating from aircraft carriers have stability and control problems not present in land-based airplanes. Some problems arise from the size constraint, to allow airplanes to fit on the elevators of as many carriers as possible. For stability and control engineers this translates into restrictions on tail length, since wings can be folded. Good pilot visibility over the nose is needed for nose-high landing approaches, affecting the airplane’s design at many points. Waveoffs or missed approaches must be made starting from more adverse airspeed and attitude conditions than from field landings. This means positive, safe control near the stall and careful integration with the airplane’s performance design.

Finally, there is the matter of carrier landings. From the moment of starting a final approach to either field or carrier landings an airplane’s path and airspeed must be controlled. Path control is needed to make a touchdown in the correct area, with a reasonable vertical velocity. Airspeed control is needed to keep the touchdown speed within limits. Depending on the on-board avionic equipment, weather conditions, and pilot training and preferences, path and airspeed control for field landings use a variety of visual cues and instrument readings. The important point is that touching down at a precise point is seldom required for field or airport runway landings.

In contrast to the airport runway case, touchdown point precision to within a very few feet is necessary for successful landings on aircraft carriers. Carrier landings are made without flare. Thus, low approach speeds are desirable to reduce touchdown vertical velocity and landing gear loads. There is little tolerance for errors in touchdown airspeed between stalling and excessive speed, leading to hard landings. As a result, carrier landing accidents, mainly due to hard landings and undershoots, are statistically more common than airport landing accidents.

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