Naval Aviator explains why USAF Pilots land softer than US Navy Pilots

Naval Aviator explains why USAF Pilots land softer than US Navy Pilots

By Dario Leone
Nov 20 2023
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Landing on an aircraft carrier.

It takes skills and nerves of ice for a US Navy pilot to land an aircraft on a carrier’s flight deck, essentially a miniature airfield, that is pitching, rolling and yawing in rough seas which these ships operate in.

A carrier landing is similar to a controlled crash. The touchdown is enough to destroy most other airplanes.

Given the uniqueness of carrier landings, do USAF pilots land softer than US Navy pilots?

USAF pilots Vs US Navy pilots

‘Yes,’ David Tussey, former US Navy A-7 Corsair II pilot, explains on Quora.

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‘Carrier aircraft are specifically designed to withstand the impact of a carrier arrested landing and also the catapult shot. But you pay a price for that. A Navy aircraft must be stronger and have a design that dissipates the energy of an arrested landing (and a catapult). That means extra weight which impacts performance.

‘Just to be clear, while a typical Navy pilot will land on conventional runways far more than on a carrier throughout their career, they still perform a carrier-type landing even on a runway.

‘USAF aircraft perform landings with a much lower sink rate, resulting in a smoother, less stressful (to the airframe) landing. The USAF fighter aircraft are not required to withstand the stress of carrier operations, so they are not carrying that extra weight.

‘The Navy’s current workhorse, the F/A-18 Super Hornet started out as the USAF YF-17, let’s remember. Performance degraded significantly with the F/A-18 carrier design. That’s just the price you pay for carrier ops.

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‘(Note: The new EMALs systems for launch and recovery will be great news for Navy aircraft designers, as they distribute the stresses more evenly during launch and recover.)’

Tussey concludes;

‘There have been a few Navy aircraft that have worked well for the USAF, specifically the F-4 Phantom II and the A-7 Corsair II. And there have been several USAF aircraft that have been proposed for Navy use such as the Navalized F-15 and F-16.

‘Still, it’s damn hard on the aircraft.’

The following video compares USAF and US Navy pilots’ landings.

Photo credit: YouTube via Task & Purpose

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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