Airplanes are routinely launched from ocean going vessels, namely carriers.

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Missiles are routinely launched from submarines.

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Has an airplane ever been launched from a submarine?

From questions about what qualifies:

  • Manned or unmanned is ok, but payload mass has to approximate a least a small person
  • One way trip is ok
  • Airboat dropped in the water is ok
  • Airbreathing primary propulsion required, rocket assist for takeoff is ok
  • Wings for lift are required, control fins alone do not qualify
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Technically a cruise missile is a disposable aircraft (jet engine and wings, if unmanned) and modern variants can be tube launched while submerged. Presumably the same could be done with a UAV. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisStratton A cruise missile as you describe would qualify if you can find one that actually comes from a sub. I've seen them from cruisers and destroyers. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ Tomohawk would be the obvious example, with both horizontal and vertical sub launch, as well as surface ships. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 0:05
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This list, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_submarine-borne_aircraft seems on point... $\endgroup$
    – DJohnM
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 3:26
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ "Submarine aircraft carrier", Wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 4:04

6 Answers 6



The HMS M2 had a single seaplane aboard that it was capable of launching.

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Her 12-inch gun was removed, replaced by a small aircraft hangar, the work being completed in 1927. This could carry a small Parnall Peto seaplane, specially designed for the M2, which, once its wings had been unfolded, could be lowered onto the sea alongside by a derrick for take off. On landing, the aircraft was hoisted back onto the deck and replaced into the hangar.


In October 1928, a hydraulic aircraft catapult was fitted, to enable the seaplane to take off directly from the deck.

The I-400 class submarine was also capable of aircraft launches.

The type name was shortened to Toku-gata Sensuikan (特型潜水艦 Special Type Submarine). They were submarine aircraft carriers able to carry three Aichi M6A Seiran aircraft underwater to their destinations. They were designed to surface, launch their planes, then quickly dive again before they were discovered.

There are some more info blurbs here worth checking out about various submarine/aircraft creations.

  • 14
    $\begingroup$ "once its wings had been unfolded, could be lowered onto the sea alongside by a derrick for take off" Would seem that the aircraft was only stored on the submarine, not launched from it, although the OP would have to decide if it fits his definition of "launched from" or not. The Japanese one seems to fit the description though. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you sure 12 inch isn't a typo? That's a big number for submarine guns. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Putting a boat in the water is considered launching so putting an airboat in the water has to follow, though this is not what I was originally thinking. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Joshua not typo. These early 1920s era submarines had dive times of 5 minutes or less... They had to function as battleships. That 12-inch gun is actually the same gun used in Formidable-class battleships of the Royal Navy. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Nelson "Dive times of 5 minutes or less" What do you mean by this? That it took them less than 5 minutes to submerge, that they could only remain submerged for 5 minutes, or something else? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 13:51

Also consider the Japanese I-400 class submarine, that carried three Aichi M6A Serian bombers. Probably the most advanced aircraft carrying submarines ever built.

They entered service too late to have any meaningful impact, but the engineering that went into them was amazing for its time. Just designing a submarine that could carry a watertight aircraft hangar without the topside weight capsizing the submarine was no simple feat. They built preheaters for the aircraft engines into the submarine, so the submarine didn't have to linger on the surface while the aircraft warmed their engines.

There was a plan to attack the Panama Canal locks with torpedos launched from the Serian aircraft, but it was never carried out.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ note that the I-400 was already mentioned by Dave's answer. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ Plus, the U-Boot-Klasse VII could launch a "Bachstelze" somewhere near the end of the war, too. $\endgroup$
    – Damon
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ Also this (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_submarine_I-25) the only bombs to be dropped by the Japanese on the continental US were dropped by a float plane launched from a submarine. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 21:03

If you allow "airplane" = "unmanned aircraft"...then, jets!

There was Regulus 1

Submarine testing was performed from 1947 to 1953 at the Navy's facility at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, with USS Cusk (SS-348) and USS Carbonero (SS-337) converted as test platforms, initially carrying the missile unprotected, thus unable to submerge until after launch.

enter image description here

And Regulus II

...the only submarine launch was carried out from USS Grayback in September 1958

enter image description here

The air inlet on Regulus II always makes me think it's laughing for joy to be launched.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Unmanned is ok. Air breathing propulsion is required. Rocket assist for takeoff is ok. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 0:26
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I like these, but where is the submarine? $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 0:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The links explain that they were sub-launched. Edited to include. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 0:48
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Pilothead It's docked at Pier 86 in NYC 😉 $\endgroup$
    – Nick
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:09

If a kite rather than an aircraft qualifies:

German U-boats used a towed autogyro to lift a lookout/pilot to a more advantageous altitude (about 120 m). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focke-Achgelis_Fa_330.

The strategy increased the visible range from 5 nautical miles to 25 nautical miles. There is one recorded instance of a submarine detecting, attacking and sinking the Greek steamer Efthalia Mari on 6 August 1943.

If a hostile vessel was seen,

If the U-boat captain were forced to abandon it on the surface, the tether would be released and the Fa 330 descend slowly to the water.

I believe this might discourage reports of enemy warships by the pilot/observer.


Tomahawk cruise missle (Wikipedia) I got beat to mentioning Regulus, but the Tomahawk cruise missile has been launched from a submerged sub. A rocket is used to initially launch the missile. enter image description here (reference)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And if you're going to complain about the "lack" of wings--those are wings on that missile. It just has a very high minimum airspeed and thus can use very small wings. They use a rocket booster to get them up to the speed where the wings will function. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 18:28


Here is a wikipedia article about many of the designs:


Most seem to have gone out of service before the end of WWII, but a German submarine, the Type 212, is being designed to launch UAVs out of its mast:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_212_submarine (see the last paragraph in the "Weapons" section).

  • $\begingroup$ Unmanned is ok but toys do not qualify. Payload capability of the aircraft has to approximate at least a small person. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 1:27

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