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I was watching the Disney movie Planes with my younger brother, and one of the characters/planes perform a emergencial landing on an aircraft carrier.

And that got me thinking...

In case of emergency, is it possible (doable) to land a small propeller-driven aircrafts, like a Cessna 350 Corvalis on a military aircraft carrier?

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aircraft carrier can setup a catching net when the plane can't use the cables – ratchet freak Mar 22 '14 at 17:38
Better hope the carrier knows you are coming. Post 911, they're really twitchy. – TechZen May 14 '14 at 18:27

6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

As Lnafziger says, a conventional landing is impossible for anything more than a tiny aircraft STOL aircraft (Carrier 'runway' length: 200m). As you state however, if it was an emergency, the aircraft carrier has a special net which it can fold up to stop planes, and since it can stop an F18 Hornet, it could probably take your Cessna as well :)


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The trick would still be hitting that relatively low net without being too high. If you were to catch just your landing gear in the net, you would still probably stop but the results wouldn't be pretty. – Greg Hewgill Mar 22 '14 at 19:33
Do you consider a C-130 Hercules "a tiny aircraft"? – Kinnisal Mountain Chicken Mar 22 '14 at 19:55
@GregHewgill: The trick is hitting the net with wheels firmly on the deck. Notice the puff of smoke on the second frame of the included animation indicating that the aircraft actually touched down long before the net. – Jan Hudec Mar 22 '14 at 21:25
I wonder what the propeller would do to that net?? :-) – Lnafziger Mar 22 '14 at 21:32
Um, guys, isn't that an S-3 Viking? – Fred Larson Mar 24 '14 at 16:54

A South Vietnamese Air Force Cessna O-1 landed on the USS Midway at the end of the Vietnam War. Fixed-wing VNAF aircraft usually flew to Thailand, and the naval evacuation was carried out by helicopter (with crews sometimes ditching in the water after the flight decks ran out of room), but this O-1 pilot wound up making his first carrier landing, with his family on board and an hour of fuel left.

Wikipedia wrote a paragraph about it and has another couple photos.

Major Buang lands his Cessna O-1 on USS Midway

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To be fair, O-1 was technically a STOL aircraft used for military observation. It could land in a parking lot. – TechZen May 14 '14 at 18:26
@TechZen true, but it was a small prop aircraft :) If the carrier is going at its regular speed for landing operations, something like a C.172 would if it slowed to stall speed only be going something like 10 knots faster than the speed of the ship. Doesn't take much to stop then :) – jwenting Oct 16 '14 at 10:43
Yeah that's the important factor - a C172 or similar stalls at around 47 knots. An aircraft carrier can travel at 30+ knots, so even assuming there's no wind (which would be a headwind assuming that carrier turned into it as normal) the plane is only travelling at a relative 17kts. Stopping from 17kts in 300ft isn't outrageous. A skilled pilot could even potentially climb from slightly below deck level and stall onto the deck, travelling even slower. With even a moderate 30kt headwind, you could actually allow the carrier to overtake you and land backwards... – Jon Story Jan 15 at 11:03
@JonStory: Great, now I have to get that particular picture out of my mind. "Hey carrier, would you mind catching up a bit?" – DevSolar Jan 16 at 11:46
I've got to be honest, I'm incredibly tempted to steal a C172 and a Nimitz Class Carrier and try that now.... who's up for a day trip? – Jon Story Jan 16 at 16:05

The published landing distance for the Cessna is the certified distance - that's what it needs in a worst-case, no-flaps, high, hot, zero-wind landing. Any pilot will tell you that they rarely need the whole runway.

Consider the big picture of the aircraft carrier. The ocean is HUGE (ask the people searching for Malaysia 370) and rather featureless. Private planes rarely cross large paths of open ocean as it's often the longest route to where they are going rather than the shortest. So the chances of a carrier battle group being anywhere near you are extremely small. If your plane is flying well enough to find the CBG, come in behind and line up for a landing then you probably don't need it in the first place.

In theory, light aircraft would have no technical problems landing on the deck. Lots of room with a 30-50kt headwind, no need for a tailhook or nets as you don't weigh 30,000 pounds or come in at 200kt IAS on full afterburner. The chances of a non-navy-trained pilot hitting the touchdown zone of a runway moving away from them at 30kt and pitching up and down several meters is laughably small. You would either miss and have to go around (again, if you can do that, you don't need the carrier in the first place) or make a mess on the fantail. Even navy pilots do this on occasion, but they have ejection seats.

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Note to editor: "full afterburner" is a lot more than 200 kts!". No, it isn't. Full afterburner is a thrust level. You can run the 'burner all the way up standing still. Carrier aircraft always land at full power in case they miss the cable, but the cable needs to be stronger to stop both the kinetic energy of the plane and the engine thrust. – paul Oct 16 '14 at 8:01
It's more accurate to say that they go to full power with afterburners at about the point the wheels hit the deck (in order to give the engines their 4-5 seconds to spool up if they miss the cables shortly after touchdown); approach is not, as far as I'm aware, done at anything like full throttle. – Nathan Tuggy Dec 17 '14 at 1:24

According to this page, the landing distance of the Cessna 350 is 2,350 feet.

A Nimitz class carrier deck is close to 1,000 feet long, and can travel about 30 knots. If they were going full speed into a headwind, it might be possible for them to stop in time, but it would be pretty scary, and if they ran off the end they would be run over by the carrier!

Note however that the airplane would pretty much have to be directly above it when it happened, and I doubt that the military would like a civilian aircraft being that close in the first place so it's very unlikely to ever even be an option unless it was setup in advance.

A different airplane like a Super Cub or as you pointed out a C-130, which can land in about 300 feet could do it pretty easily, even without the wind as long as they don't get caught up in the arresting gear.

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According to, the 350 has a no-wind landing ground run of 1550 feet and a landing stall speed of 57 knots. Steaming at 30 knots doubles the effective length of the carrier, so landing without arresting gear would be quite possible; with the carrier steaming into a stiff headwind, you could actually fly a "vertical" landing. – Mark Mar 23 '14 at 0:55
@lnafziger run over by the carrier is less likely due to the fact that u land on the angled deck rather than the straight deck. You are more likely to fall over board :) – vasin1987 Mar 23 '14 at 7:00
@Mark: You are underestimating the effect. Grossly! – Jan Hudec Mar 23 '14 at 10:49
Ok, so let's take the 2350 ft distance and 74 (1.3 * 57) knots Vref and no wind. The motion of the carrier redues the speed to just 44 knots and since the landing distance is proportional to square of speed, that leaves us with 831 ft, well within the available 1000. Of course it's still rather risky since there is no runway overrun area (aircraft with arrestor gear actually apply full power just before touch-down, so they can touch-and-go if they miss the arrestor), but in an emergency doable. – Jan Hudec Mar 23 '14 at 10:56
There are plenty of small propeller-driven planes with landing distances well below 1000 feet. Even not so tiny ones, like the AN-2 can land in about 700 feet. – vsz Mar 23 '14 at 12:57

I suppose if it were an emergency (Not like torn radio aerial, more like fuel leaking/low in the middle of the ocean) you could save yourself by ditching the plane, parachuting onto the aircraft carrier. You'd be arrested by armed navy men, but as long as you don't try to fight back, you'll be taken to wherever they're going in the brig - alive. (And not drowned, marooned, or eaten by sharks) This of course would be after you beg over the radio to land. If they say yes, you can save your plane, maybe buy some of their fuel, and take off for wherever you're going (or be arrested with your plane, get taken to wherever they're going, and pay for a hangar there while you figure things out. Not sure what navy protocol on this is.

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I imagine policy is "sorry, no" because of what paul said in his answer, particularly the part about likely crashing on their carrier. – Dronz Oct 24 '14 at 23:13

An aircraft with a grappling hook could do it such as a Cessna which is capable of towing a banner. It wouldn't end well, but he could survive for sure. A Cessna 172 needs about 1,500 feet of runway for landing... depending on fuel load of course. Typical carrier landing zone is only about 1,000 feet. The grappling hook used to load a banner could reduce the inertia enough that the plane would not explode if it caught a landing wire, but I would not recommend it... it'd rip the plane apart. 'Traps' are practiced on land before on sea. It would be very difficult for a Cessna to capture the 'meatball' for an inexperienced pilot on an angle deck. Your runway is constantly drifting right.

The VS0 of a Cessna 172 (Down and dirty) is 54Mph, an Aircraft Carrier can easily do 46Mph if turned into the wind. A reduction of 8Mph within 1,000 feet is not impossible... so yes, it's possible.

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