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I read that the Navy originally considered to use the ATF(Advanced Tactical Fighter) Programme aircraft (Now known as the F-22) as carrier aircraft but declined to do so when it came out. How feasible is it now to convert an F-22 to carrier use? (I kind of want to know because it is a better plane than the F-35 but is not used on carriers even though it was originally planed for)

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In general, land based aircraft do not lend themselves well to carrier conversion. On the other hand, conversion in opposite direction is (relatively) easy, as shown by F-4 and F-18.

Conversion of aircraft to carrier use require a number of modifications:

  • Tail hook has to added and rear fuselage reinforced for arrested landings.

  • Landing gear has to be strengthened for high sink rate (~24 ft/s).

  • Atleast in USN, the front landing gear and fuselage has to be strengthened for catapult launches.

  • Also, it requires additional equipment, like th Carrier Landing system, redesigned refueling system (pretty much everyone use a system different from USAF).

  • Carrier based aircraft usually are expected to have better low speed capabilities as they have to fly slower approaches and wave-off (go-around) at lower speed compared to the land based aircraft. This dictates the wing loading, resulting in increased wing area and/or high lift devices.

  • There are also issues in corrosion prevention etc.

The weight penalty due to these reasons can be non negligible. For example, the naval Rafale M version weighs nearly 500 kg more than the Air Force Rafale C variant (which has ~10 ton empty weight). USN calculated that the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) will be around 1800 kg heavier than the Air force version (ATF was supposed to weigh ~15 ton).

Another thing is that the USAF and USN had different requirements, for example, the USAF wanting a single seater and USN wanting a double seater, requirement of different sensors (for fleet defence) etc. in the end, the aircraft proposed for the NATF looked nothing similar to the one that finally became the F-22 and the project was quietly buried.

NATF

F-22 NATF proposal, image from aerospaceweb.org

Note that the design has swing wings, as the aircraft was being proposed for replacing F-14 Tomcat. Another important result of the navalization of the aircraft is the reduction in the number of planform alignments, and their negative impact on the stealth characteristics.

Carrier conversion of F-22 could have been done if it was considered early in design. Doing it now (note that NATF was considered due to the insistence of Congress; it is doubtful if USN ever wanted it). Doing so later in the design process will result in another F-111B fiasco. As for doing it now, it is better to design a new aircraft (which was what the F-35 is).

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  • $\begingroup$ Some form of folding wings are also a nice bonus for carrier-based aircraft. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2015 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag As Lockheed's proposal had swing wings, there was no wing folding (like F-14). However, there was a proposal sometime later (not official) which included folding the wings between flaps and ailerons. $\endgroup$
    – aeroalias
    Nov 29, 2015 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ Beautiful answer! $\endgroup$
    – ROIMaison
    Nov 29, 2015 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ One thing to note is that the F-22 is already 50% heavier than the F-35 before any required strengthening or modifications: it's pretty heavy as fighters go $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Nov 30, 2015 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JonStory although I agree with the given answer's reasoning, keep in mind that the twin F119 engines produce FAR more thrust than the F-35's single Honda V-6... I mean, F135 turbofan. About 30,000 to be exact. If we had another great such as Kelly Johnson, and the funding, AND the government initiative (something I believe has been bureaucratized to extinction in our government) there wouldn't be too much in the way making it happen, disregarding the actual effectiveness of the end result. $\endgroup$
    – Jihyun
    May 21, 2018 at 4:19

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