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)


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.


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).

  • $\begingroup$ Some form of folding wings are also a nice bonus for carrier-based aircraft. $\endgroup$ Nov 29 '15 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 '15 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ Beautiful answer! $\endgroup$
    – ROIMaison
    Nov 29 '15 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 '15 at 0:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @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 '18 at 4:19

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