Old School Carrier Jet Ops

Mostly from a British perspective.


A lot of folks around the naval centric blogs roll their eyes at the Chinese aircraft carrier, and reassure themselves that it took the US 50-60-70 years to learn to operate carriers.


It took about a decade.

Take a look at carrier aviation circa 1950. Sure, there were early jets, but most everything else operated just as it did in World War II. Straight decks, hydraulic cats for the jets, but everything else was a deck run take-off, the flat approach via an LSO with actual paddles leading to a “cut.”  Cyclic operations weren’t the norm, but rather the deck load strike was the usual operation. Night operations were still limited to a select group of specialty planes in each air group.

Fast forward a decade, and virtually all that had changed. The prop plane was most assuredly on the way out. The angle deck was in the fleet. The steam catapult was in service, allowing vastly heavier jets to be safely launched. The flat approach to a cut had been replaced by the constant rate of descent to a controlled crash type approach, with the paddles of the LSO being replaced by the “meatball” mirror landing system. Cyclic operations were the norm, and every carrier aviator was expected to fly and fight day and night.

The US accident rate in this period of technical and procedural change was appalling. But we learned. And while the Chinese may not be the most innovative people around, they’re smart enough to study what we have done. Of course, they too will face a steep learning curve. But if they are willing to pay the price, there’s no reason they cannot establish a quite credible carrier aviation ability in a similar time period as we did.

Back to the video, yes, yes indeed that is a jet landing on a giant rubber mat with no landing gear.

The three big innovations in post-World War II carrier technology are generally seen as the angled deck, steam catapults, and the mirror landing system. And all three were British inventions. But as you can tell by the rubber mat, not all British carrier innovations were all that successful, or even well thought out.

I have no doubt that it was quite expensive to refit the carrier with the flex deck for trials. And of course, some sort of dolly would be needed for deck handling and launching. And of course, the time needed to lift the jet from the deck and put it on the dolly would considerably slow the cycle of landing operations.

Still, it is a  fun video, and great to see some lesser known British birds, and some planes better known for their land based operations running the deck.

8 thoughts on “Old School Carrier Jet Ops”

  1. Mmm, a Viggie in Gull Grey over Gloss White. Still a beautiful plane some 50 years on.

  2. Brad, I genuflect at your Google-fu abilities. I just pissed away more than an hour watching all five segments.

  3. Yes and no. Carrier aviation made significant advances in the ’50’s, but the post-WWII flight deck didn’t spring fully formed from Langley’s forehead. There’s quite a bit more to carrier aviation than chucking the pilots off the pointy end and catching them when they don’t take the hint. Most of that stuff was developed, or had its roots developed, over the course of decades – including a long-term theory to practice evolution known as the War in the Pacific.

    China has some advantages in that they don’t have to spend decades working with piston-driven aircraft, but at the same time that means the steep part of their learning curve is going to be with higher-risk jet aircraft. They also have the advantage of using the US Navy as an example, but there’s a large gulf between seeing someone do something and doing it yourself. I don’t think China is going to need the 50-odd years it took us to get truly proficient at launching and recovering jets at sea, but I don’t see how they manage it in less than 15.

  4. The Chinese will never get to the same level as US carrier operations. Why? Because they are not willing to “pay the price.” For them it’s all just window dressing to get “face” in Asia, and that is working. Those who know and understand CV operations know that they are paper dragons and always will be.

    1. I don’t think the Chinese will, in anything approaching the near term, achieve the same level as the US. But can they field a credible CV capability in the Western Pacific in the next 20 years? That’s entirely possible. There *are* cultural issues with the Chinese, and the quality of their personnel, and their face saving culture, that will mitigate against them achieving the same proficiency as we have. But about 20 years ago, China decided to field a capable, competent navy, and they have made great strides toward doing so. And they continue to invest heavily in it.

      Many in the US sneered at the thought of the Japanese being competent blue water sailors in the 1930s.

    2. “Many in the US sneered at the thought of the Japanese being competent blue water sailors in the 1930s.”

      And others did not. The Second London Naval Treaty of 1936 had a provision that if Japan or Italy did not agree to the limitations on warships, the treaty was effectively nullified.

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