Category Archives: Aircraft Carriers

China Launches First Domestically Built Aircraft Carrier

New Carrier Continues Expansion of Chinese Expeditionary Capability.

China launched its first domestically produced aircraft carrier earlier for sea trials this week at the northeastern port of Dalian, in the south of Liaoning Province, China. The new ship has not been named yet and carries the temporary designation “Type 001A”.

The new Type 001A is a slightly larger vessel than China’s previous aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, that was purchased from Ukraine in 1999 and originally built in 1985 in the then-Soviet Union as a Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser. Liaoning has had three names: first christened as the Riga under Soviet use, then renamed the Varyag and finally the Liaoning after the Chinese purchase in 1999. Analysts report the primary role of the Liaoning has been a training vessel for the development of Chinese carrier doctrine and operations.

The new Type 001A is 315 meters long and 75 meters wide as compared to the slightly smaller Liaoning that is 304 meters long and 70 meters wide. Both ships displace roughly 50,000 tons, significantly less than the Nimitz-class carriers with a loaded displacement of between 100,000–104,000 tons. The U.S. Nimitz-class carriers are also longer at 333 meters.

Like the older Soviet-era carriers and the existing Russian Kuznetsov carrier along with the United Kingdom’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the new Chinese Type 001A uses a ski-jump style launch ramp. India is also building a new ski-jump aircraft carrier, the Vikrant class carrier, formerly known as the “Project 71 Air Defense Ship” (ADS) or Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) program.

Unlike the other carriers however, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth class uses two superstructures and may have a provision for the removal of the ski-jump launch structure in favor of an electromagnetic catapult in the future.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is an emerging technology in new aircraft carriers. The U.S. has already demonstrated and installed the EMALS launch capability on the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carrier in service since 2017. China is considering the use of electromagnetic launch systems on their planned next generation aircraft carrier, the Type 002. China has reportedly already experimented with aircraft modified to be launched with an electromagnetic catapult in anticipation of the next-gen Type 002 development.

One reason China may be pursuing the EMALS launch system for future carriers could be an inherent limitation to their current launch system. According to intelligence outlet Southfront.org the Chinese are currently limited in launch weight with their existing Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system. That means China’s J-15 tactical aircraft already tested on the carrier Liaoning are limited in take-off weight. The aircraft must sacrifice fuel and/or weapons load to get airborne from the short take-off ski jump ramp. China will develop a new combat aircraft to fly from the decks of their planned Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft carrier.

China launched their first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on Sunday. (Photo: AP/China)

Earlier this week an unnamed source told the Navy Times that the first trial of China’s new Type 001A, “May just involve turning a circle in Bohai Bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks. Safety is still the top priority of the maiden trial. If no leaks are found, the carrier may sail farther to make it a longer voyage, probably two or three days.”

While China’s progress in aircraft carrier technology has been moving forward rapidly the testing protocols for the new Type 001A suggest a cautious approach to the program. One certainty is that China’s massive investment its aircraft carrier program confirms their ambitions to project security for its national interests and the interests of its allies well beyond its coastline.

Top image: China’s current flight operations onboard their carriers are limited in take-off weight by their deck design. (Photo: via Southfront.org)

That Time An F-14 Was Blown Off The Flight Deck By Another Tomcat

This is why aircraft carriers have JBD (Jet Blast Deflectors).

The videos below show an incident that occurred aboard USS Independence (CV-62) in 1995.

On Apr. 18, 1995 a VF-21 F-14 Tomcat was blown off the flight deck of “Indy” by another Tomcat that was about to depart. Interestingly, the aircraft carrier did have the JBD (Jet Blast Deflector – normally raised behind the catapult as the exhaust from a departing jet does not hit and endanger flight deck crew or other aircraft) behind Cat. 4 but it couldn’t be used when launching an afterburning jet: Cat. 4 aboard Forrestal class aircraft carriers was not water cooled hence it couldn’t be used for launching an F-14 (it could be used for A-6s, A-7, E-2s or C-2s).

The Tomcat pilot and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) successfully ejected from the F-14 whose nose wheel slipped into the port-se catwalk: they were recovered from the water within 2 minutes by two HS-14 SH-60F Seahawk helicopters. The Tomcat, leaning 60 feet over the ocean, was recovered too, after the fuel was removed from the aircraft.

From another angle:

This incident somehow reminds another one that occurred on Sept. 14, 1976, during a cruise off the Orkney Islands. On that day the Tomcat BuNo 159588 went out of control while taxiing and rolled off the deck of the USS John F. Kennedy and fell into the sea. The crew safely ejected before the Tomcat went over the edge. Unlike the USS Independence incident, in this case the plane ended up intact on the ocean floor. Since they were concerned that the Soviets might recover the Tomcat and learn valuable secrets (especially about the Phoenix missile), the U.S. Navy launched a recovery operation: the lost F-14 was recovered two months later.

 

Like a Plot from A Clive Cussler Novel, Billionaire Discovers USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier Lost in 1942

How the Remarkable History of the WWII Aircraft Carrier USS Lexington Continues.

Silence, darkness and cold. Those were the only things surrounding the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) since she plummeted to her deep-sea grave on the sea floor two miles below the surface of the war-torn Pacific on May 8, 1942.

Until this week.

Like an improbable plot from one of Clive Cussler’s “NUMA Files” adventure novels, billionaire explorer Paul Allen and his own private fleet of deep-sea scientists used a remotely piloted submarine to discover the wreckage of the USS Lexington on Mar. 4, 2018. She lies on the bottom in 10,000 feet of water about 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia where she sank. Photos show her deck guns still trained at a black liquid sky waiting for phantom Japanese Zeros, Val dive bombers and Kate torpedo bombers that disappeared into antiquity decades ago.

The USS Lexington’s wreck was discovered from Paul Allen’s private research vessel, the R/V Petrel, on Sunday morning at about 8:00 am local time in the Pacific. Brilliant color images of the Lexington and some of her aircraft were transmitted to the surface and shared around the world over the last 24 hours.

The crew of Paul Allen’s research vessel R/V Petrel watch video from their remotely piloted submersible as it explores the wreck of the USS Lexington last Sunday when it was discovered . (Photo: Vulcan Photo)

One of the most remarkable photos shows a beautiful, colorful Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter from U.S. Navy Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3) that was aboard the USS Lexington at Coral Sea. The aircraft wears the “Felix the Cat holding a bomb” insignia common along with four Japanese kill markings on the right side of its fuselage below the canopy. The aircraft sits with its canopy open and its beautiful blue upper wing and fuselage and gray lower surface paint livery. It is the first time anyone has seen the aircraft since she was sent to the bottom in 1942. Despite the crushing depth, corrosive seawater and decades gone by, it remains in amazingly good condition.

Researcher Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Allen, was quoted earlier today on Geekwire.com in a story by writer Kurt Schlosser as saying that the USS Lexington was on a priority list of ships to locate by Allen’s team.

“Based on geography, time of year and other factors, I work together with Paul Allen to determine what missions to pursue,” Kraft said. “We’ve been planning to locate the Lexington for about six months and it came together nicely.”

Underwater images and video taken by the remotely operated submersible launched from the research vessel R/V Petrel also show large deck guns on the carrier along with aircraft like the F4F Wildcat and others. The advanced submersible robot camera vehicles used by Allen’s team can submerge to a depth of nearly 20,000 feet and transmit high-resolution video and navigation data to the surface.

Allen’s team also found the fabled USS Indianapolis last year. The cruiser Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine after a secret mission to deliver the first atomic bomb in 1945. The terrifying ordeal of the Indianapolis survivors became famous after it was featured in a monologue by the fictional character “Quint” in the Peter Benchley novel and movie, “Jaws”.

In 2015 Paul Allen’s team also located the wreck of the Japanese mega-battleship, “Mushashi”, sister ship to the giant Yamato battleship. Mushashi and Yamato remain the largest battleships ever constructed. Both were sunk in WWII.

The USS Lexington off Honolulu, Hawaii in February, 1933 with Diamondhead in the background. (Photo: U.S. Navy History & Heritage Command)

Significant history also surrounds the discovery of the USS Lexington making Allen’s find even more extraordinary.

The USS Lexington was the first full-sized fleet aircraft carrier to be sunk by aircraft launched from an enemy aircraft carrier in WWII. The Lexington took hits from several torpedoes and bombs launched from Japanese aircraft as it fought alongside the USS Yorktown with an opposing force of three Japanese carriers. Her deployment in the region was a critical strategic deterrent to an anticipated Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland that never came. About a year earlier the smaller Royal Navy HMS Hermes, one of the first purpose-built aircraft carriers, was sunk by Japanese dive bombers.

A Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber of VT-2 photographed in the wreck of the USS Lexington. (Photo: Vulcan Photo)

After the USS Lexington took multiple hits from Japanese aircraft on May 8, 1942, a massive explosion tore through her spaces at 12:47 PM. Gasoline vapor from the ruptured port aviation fuel tanks exploded. The giant explosion destroyed the ship’s main damage control station, but air operations continued despite the fires. Remarkably, all of the surviving aircraft from the morning’s strike were recovered by 2:14 PM.

Moments later at 2:42 PM another major explosion tore through the forward part of the Lexington, igniting fires below the flight deck on the hanger deck and leading to a power failure. Though assisted by three destroyers, the Lexington’s damage control parties were overwhelmed after a third explosion ripped through her hull at 3:25 PM. That explosion, the death blow to Lexington, cut off water pressure to the hanger deck preventing fire crews from containing the fire there. As a result, a final, enormous explosion from fuel and ammunition stored in her hold and magazines ignited an uncontrollable inferno on board.

Shortly after 3:28 PM her commander, Captain Frederick Sherman, issued the order to abandon ship. Despite multiple explosions and fires on board Lexington a remarkable 2,770 crewmen and officers were rescued. Tragically, 216 were killed in the Japanese attack on the ship and in the fire-fighting efforts that followed. The USS Lexington was scuttled (purposely sunk) by several torpedoes fired from the USS Phelps to prevent her hulk from falling into Japanese hands.

One of the final explosions on board the USS Lexington when she sank on May 8, 1942. (Photo: U.S. Navy History & Heritage Command)

The discovery of the USS Lexington’s wreck and the images made by Paul Allen’s research team provide a unique and invaluable insight into WWII history. This treasure of historical data would have likely remained lost forever if it weren’t for the wealthy investor’s remarkable drive for discovery and commitment to research.

Top image: A Grumman F4F Wildcat sits on the ocean floor in the wreckage of the USS Lexington. (Photo: Vulcan Photo)

Cockpit Video Shows F/A-18E Super Hornet Performing Case II Recovery With Low Visibility And Pitching Deck

Check out what happens inside the cockpit of a VFA-143 “Rhino” performing a Case II recovery procedure.

The footage below shows a recovery to the carrier in low visibility conditions of a Super Hornet (or “Rhino” as the aircraft is nicknamed aboard supercarriers) with the VFA-143 “Pukin Dogs” (based on the badge that can be seen on the pilot’s flight helmet).

Not as scary as a night landing, still quite interesting, considered that you can almost read the instruments and see all what the pilot does during the approach.

As explained before here at The Aviationist, all aircraft returning to the carrier have to enter the Carrier Control Aerea, a circular airspace within a radius of 50 nautical miles around the carrier, extending upward from the surface to infinity. Within the CCA, all traffic is usually controlled by the CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center) and inbound flights are normally in radio contact with the “marshal control” who radios clearances within the marshal pattern.

The actual procedure for holding and landing depends on the weather conditions.

Under Case I recovery (meaning more or less “good weather”, with ceiling of at least 3,000 feet and 5 miles visibility within the carrier control zone – a circular airspace within 5 miles horizontal radius from the carrier, extending upwar from the surface to 2,500 feet) the traffics wait their turn for final approach to landing circling in a holding pattern.

Case-II approaches are used when weather conditions are such that the flight may encounter instrument conditions during the descent, but visual conditions of at least 1,000 feet (300 m) ceiling and 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi) visibility exist at the ship. Positive radar control is used until the pilot is inside 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) and reports the ship in sight.

According to the NATOPS manual, under Case-II conditions: “Penetrations in actual instrument conditions by formation flights of more than two aircraft are not authorized. Flight leaders shall follow Case III approach procedures outside of 10 nm. When within 10 nm with the ship in sight, flights will be shifted to tower control and pro- ceed as in Case I. If the flight does not have the ship in sight at 10 nm, the flight may descend to not less than 800 feet. If a flight does not have the ship in sight at 5 miles, both aircraft shall be vectored into the bolter/waveoff pattern and action taken to conduct a Case III recovery for the remaining flights.”

For jets and turboprops the holding pattern is a left-hand pattern more or less tangent to the BRC (Base Recovery Course – magnetic heading of the ship) with the ship in the 3-o’clock position and a maximum diameter of 5 nm.
Aircraft circle at altitudes from 2,000 feet upward at various levels with a vertical separation of 1,000 feet.

Once the flight deck is free for landings, the lowest aircraft in the “stack”, leave its altitude to enter the landing pattern while the flights above, one by one, descend to the lower level vacated by the preceding flight.

In accordance with the EAT (Expected Approach Time) the aircraft depart the holding in such a way to reach the ‘”initial”, 3 miles astern at 800 feet altitude. Thereafter a “break” and a subsequent spin pattern is flown at 1,200 feet within 3 nm of the ship.

Aircraft in the landing pattern, properly separated (no more than 6 at any given time), continue to fly the downwind at 600 feet, perform base turn and align with the ship, astern at about 350 to 400 feet.

From there the Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System (IFLOLS) lights provide the pilot with a visual indication of proper approach path.

[Read also: All you need to know about arrested landings on U.S. aircraft carriers]

Enjoy the video.

Here’s Boeing Submission To The U.S. Navy MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System Competition

Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system has been unveiled.

After teasing its shape with a mysterious tweet that included a photograph of an aircraft under protective cover on Dec. 14, as planned, Boeing has unveiled a better (still, partial) view of its submission to the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system competition (UCAAS).

Through its MQ-25 competition (with final proposals due on Jan. 3, 2018), the U.S. Navy plans to procure unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. The UCAAS will operate from both land bases and the flight deck of its Nimitz- and future Ford-class aircraft carriers, seamlessly integrating with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems. The induction of the new tanker drone will offload some aerial refueling duties from the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization, in a company public release. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

According to Boeing the UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early next year.

The Navy issued its final request for proposals in October. Proposals are due Jan. 3.

With Northrop Grumman withdrawing from the competition in October 2017, Boeing, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin are the three aerospace company competing for the initial development contract. The U.S. Navy has a requirement for 72 tanker drones, even though the service will initially only buy four examples of the winning design in order to assess whether the winner will be able to meet all the requirements before handing out any larger production deals.

Top image: Boeing photo by Eric Shindelbower