A REAL Controlled Crash …

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

***image1***Air Force pilots used to long runways tend to refer to Navy carrier landings as “controlled crashes,” but just after World War II the British Royal Navy experimented with a carrier landing system that was a deliberate, landing gear-less controlled crash.

The idea was hatched because early jet engines had two disadvantages for carrier use − they used a huge amount of fuel resulting in very short range, and the engine accelerated very slowly, making a go-around (“wave off”) from a bad carrier approach practically impossible.

The Royal Navy came up with a unique idea to save weight and cut down landing accidents − belly landing undercarriageless aircraft on a flexible deck, basically a rubber carpet stretched between shock absorbers. Replacing the weight of landing gear, the gear with an equal weight of fuel would increase the range of the aircraft by about 10 percent, and a flexible deck would be much easier for pilots to land on (try throwing a Euro and making it stop on a set spot on a table, then on the same size spot on a mattress).

Once the undercarriageless aircraft landed, it would be pulled back by its arresting wire onto a cradle, and then lowered below decks. The aircraft cradles would be stacked in twos on top of each other for maintenance, allowing twice as many aircraft to be carried. The aircraft would be launched from the cradles by catapult.

A series of tests on small scale models validated the concept, and a Sea Vampire fighter with a slightly strengthened underside began a series of full size tests on a flexible deck at the RAF test facility at Farnborough. After the full scale concept proved practical, the tests moved to a real aircraft carrier, HMS “Warrior.” In the end, 260 landings at sea and ashore were made without difficulty by a variety of pilots with different skill levels.

Nevertheless, the full development of such a system would have required an entirely new type of carrier, and in the fiscally constrained post-World War II environment this was a nonstarter. And while the idea of a “flexdeck” landing area seems fanciful, on the other side of the Atlantic the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines all experimented with the idea, dropping it for essentially the same reasons. E-mail comments and questions to marshall.michel@ramstein.af.mil.