The Barricade landing
Even at the calmest times, navy carrier operations are a violent ballet that flog the senses. The decision to rig the barricade takes this to the next level and gives a couple dancers sledge hammers and PCP.
‘If the call to rig the netting is made, it’s because the jet can’t land normally and the captain feels the conditions are perfect to take it aboard versus letting the pilot eject alongside the ship and simply plucking him out of the water, returning the plane to the tax payers (though inconveniently parked). Even if the plane lands perfectly, there’s still a high chance that it’s going to be badly damaged. They are just not designed to take the barricade any more.
‘Why so dangerous? The primary reason is that once the plane gets past a certain point on the approach, there is no way to safely wave off. It’s committed. In fact, you cut power and hopefully engage the netting as you touchdown.’
F-4 Phantom II sliding off the deck of the carrier
‘I saw one snap in my entire Navy career of 20+ years. It was an F-4 that had almost hit the ramp on the previous approach. The impact broke one of the main landing gears in half, but the airplane managed to get airborne again. A decision was made to rig the barricade and trap the Phantom in it. It was late at night…pitch dark.
‘The pilot flew a flawless approach to the barricade. As directed, he shut the engine down just before touch down. The aircraft engaged the barrier successfully, but the sheared main landing gear sliced through the bottom cable of the barricade, rendering the netting useless. The aircraft slid off the deck and the crew ejected. The RIO was recovered alive, but the pilot was never found. Tragic event.’
‘This was on the USS Independence in the mid 70s. We later did several trial riggings of the barricade and discovered some mistakes in procedures, but nothing that would have prevented that accident. It was terrible watching that happen in real time on the flight deck camera.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy