Magic Carpet

Landing on a carrier is the defining difference between the Tailhook Navy and the Air Force. It’s incredibly challenging, and requires consummate airmanship, every time. The utmost precision flying is required, often under far from optimum conditions, simply to conduct routine operations.

Early jet operations at sea had astonishingly bad safety records. The combination of straight carrier decks, the old style flat approach, and underpowered engines with very slow response time meant carrier aviators that embarked on a career could easily expect to see as many as one in four of their peers die in an operational accident.

The introduction of the angled deck and the mirror (later, Fresnel lens) optical landing system, combined with better engine performance, and the constant descent/angle of attack carrier approach  greatly improved the safety record of fast jet carrier aviation. Even so, operational accidents are far too common, as is the loss of life associated with them.

Non aviators think that the rate of descent for a jet is controlled by pulling or pushing on the control stick. Nope. The pilot controls the rate of descent with the throttle. Speed is controlled by pushing or pulling the nose up or down.*

This counterintuitive method of flying takes an extraordinary amount of practice to master.

Magic Carpet, a series of software improvements to the flight controls and the Heads Up Display symbology in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aim to eliminate this.  Spill did a great series of  posts on fly by wire technology. The thing about fly-by-wire is not so much that the commands are sent to the actuators via electrical signal, so much as that the flight control computer on board takes the input from the pilot, and interprets it as to what the pilot wishes to accomplish, and sends the appropriate command to the controls.

Reducing pilot workload makes for increased safety, and greater operational effectiveness.


The F-35C will have a similar capability built in from the beginning.

*This is a very, very gross oversimplification of the complexities of the carrier approach.

6 thoughts on “Magic Carpet”

  1. Interesting stuff. DLC has been around for a long time. I’m old enough to remember “HUD Cripple” lectures during safety stand-downs. I’m also old enough to believe in my heart that all this computer jazz is really black magic, and you’d better be prepared to revert to mech and bring her aboard the old fashioned way.

    1. Back when Spill and I were talking about it, we noticed one of the very first platforms with DLC was the Lockheed L-1011.

  2. I’d say the idea of using pitch for airspeed and power for altitude is at least the second hardest if not the hardest part teaching people to fly. If anything is more difficult to work through its developing the idea that they need to fly the plane all the way down to the ground and develop the nerve to not pull away from it too much or until the time is right to flare. Especially since doing so will slow you down and balloon you up and loss of speed means loss of lift, 30ft doesn’t look very far from a cockpit but it would still be bad to suddenly drop the plane from that height. One of my early instructors at school once made the mistake of using the example early on of landing on aircraft carriers when describing short field landings. For the next two semesters I proceeded to scare the beJesus out of my next two instructors. While they acted impressed at just How Short a distance I was landing and stopping in, they never understood why the heck I was slamming the plane down so dang hard!

    1. Carrier landings are a form of short field landing, but not quite the same as you would do on land. For a bush pilot, many short filed landings are also on soft fields, so doing things the Navy way would be counter productive. You might get away with it for awhile with a Cessna, but a Piper Cherokee, or their derivatives, might get you a large bill fairly soon to repair the damage. So, I can understand your instructor’s concern for driving the AC onto the deck.

      Some aircraft are “floaters” and tend to be reluctant to quit flying when you get them into ground effect. The Piper Indian Series (particularly the Cherokee series) are that way. But if you pull the power once you know the runway is made, then the AC shouldn’t get too carried away with itself.

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