Aircraft Carriers

The story of “Bridle Catchers,” the extensions at the front of an aircraft carrier (that have now disappeared)

Older aircraft did not have a launch bar integrated in the nose gear; instead, a wire rope called a catapult bridle was attached to the aircraft and the catapult shuttle…

Aircraft catapult

An aircraft catapult is a device used to allow aircraft to take off from a very limited amount of space, such as the deck of a vessel, but also installed land-based runways in rare cases. It is now most commonly used on aircraft carriers, as a form of assisted take off.

Last aircraft carrier with bridle catchers

Older aircraft did not have a launch bar integrated in the nose gear; instead, a wire rope called a catapult bridle was attached to the aircraft and the catapult shuttle. The ramps (Van Velm Bridle Arresters or horns) at the catapult ends on older carriers were used to catch these ropes so they could be reused; bridles have not been used on US aircraft (French Navy Super Etendard Modernisé attack aircraft used bridles until their retirement in 2016 and Brazilian Navy A-4 Skyhawk fighter bombers used bridles until the aircraft carrier São Paulo went out of service in 2017) since the end of the Cold War and all carriers commissioned since then have not had the ramps.

The last carrier commissioned with a bridle catcher was USS Carl Vinson; starting with USS Theodore Roosevelt the ramps were deleted. During Refueling and Comprehensive Overhaul refits in the late 1990s–early 2000s, the bridle catchers were removed from the first three Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. USS Enterprise had been the last US Navy operational carrier where the ramps were not removed.

Aircraft equipped with bridle catchers

F-4, A-3, A-4, F-8 and RA-5C aircraft were bridle equipped. Back in the 70’s A-6, A-7, E-2 and C-2 were the first aircraft equipped with nose tow. In the early days the bridles were shot off the bow, so the ramps were for bridle overrun. The bridles were hooked to a strap that ran in a track alongside the cat slot and were brought to a stop by a cammed disc brake.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-7E Corsair II VA-86 Sidewinders, AJ400 / 159292 / 1977

‘The extensions were called “Bridle Catchers,” says James Shannon, Senior Chief Petty Officer BMCS (SW/AW)(E-8) at US Navy (1995-present), on Quora.

‘Catapulting aircraft from the carrier deck has evolved. In the past most aircraft were launched by attaching the aircraft nose to the catapult via a wire bridle. The bridle catcher would ‘catch’ the wire so that it could be reused.

‘This method evolved however. Nose wheels would be fitted specially so that they could be attached directly to the catapult shuttle.

A-4 Launch with extension catching the bridle.

‘As soon as all the aircraft in the airwing gradually evolved to using the launch bar/nose wheel method, there was no longer a need for the bridle catcher.’

Shannon concludes;

‘USN Carriers eventually removed the bridle catchers or were built without them.’

The video below features the bridle Launch of an F-4 Phantom.

This other clip instead features the Launch Bar/Nosewheel Launch of a Super Hornet.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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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