Looking at the F-16 again, I noticed the tailhook which it seems to have. I know the F-16 is not designed to land on any aircraft carrier, however, if it was between ditching in the ocean and attempting to land on a carrier. During wartime or any emergency; if the F-16 found itself over an ocean and needed to land, and there was a friendly carrier nearby. Could it be done?

For this we assume an unmodified F-16, any of the F-16 variants are candidates for this thought experiment. However, I assume the lighter F-16A (I assume they all have the hook, even the early block A variants?) is better, since it has less mass which needs to come to a full stop?

I understand that this will probably be speculation at best, I'm just curious. Forgive me. If someone happens to know the figures of maximum load on the F-16 tail hook versus what would roughly be required, that would be awesome. However, I'm also taking just educated guesses.

My own layman efforts towards an answer, limited to mostly just identifying some obvious issues:

Is the F-16 tail hook even compatible with the arrest system an aircraft carrier uses? Perhaps it wouldn't catch the arrestor cable at all.

If it does catch it, perhaps it is not designed for that kind of abuse, and would tear straight off the airframe if this was attempted.

For carrier landings, the aircraft will typically from what I understand not flare and make hard landings which really beats the undercarriage. I'm not so concerned with the undercarriage braking, it would be better to recover an F-16 with broken undercarriage than losing it to the ocean.

However, if the undercarriage does break, it might prevent the hook from catching the cable at the correct angle. Even if it does grab the cable, perhaps the aircraft with broken undercarriage would risk sliding off the side of the deck.

From what I understand, there are no barriers on modern Nimitiz carriers any longer. Hence they will not be considered as an option. Perhaps a barrier could catch an F-16 but I'm more curious about the properties of the hook, undercarriage, and other issues with landing on a carrier.

I know landing on a carrier is hard, so what is it that makes it so hard for an F-16?


  • $\begingroup$ F16 pilots most likely haven't gone through any carrier landing training, which could be the biggest risk. Carrier landing is hard. $\endgroup$ – user3528438 Oct 26 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ Nimitz class carriers still have a barricade. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Oct 27 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ It can land on a carrier for sure. The question is whether it (or whatever is left of it) will be able to take off. $\endgroup$ – DeepSpace Oct 27 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ The plane could, but could the pilot?! $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Oct 27 at 16:00

The hook is for emergency use at airports that have Runway Arrestor Systems. Lots of non-naval fighters have arrestor hooks for that purpose.

Now, there is nothing stopping someone from landing an F-16 or any other fighter on a carrier deck and using its arrestor system, which works the same way. The main issues are the proficiency required to do it and the ability of the airframe to take it.

A carrier landing isn't really a landing; you more or less descend into the ocean and the deck gets in the way. So the airplane needs a pilot trained to do that sort of thing, and an airframe that can do it repeatedly, that is, land with a descent rate of >500 fpm, a "hard landing" for a normal airplane, without developing cracks here and there and everywhere after a few dozen times.

No doubt that in theory, you could take a carrier qualified pilot, check him/her out in the F-16, and that pilot could shoot traps onto a deck with the F-16 using the hook (launching it is another matter in the absence of catapult link). But they wouldn't be able to do a lot of them before the airframe would be toast.

  • $\begingroup$ The hook would never hold, it isn't meant for carrier loads. It would end up in the drink anyway. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Oct 26 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ There is enough fudge factor in the structural design that don't think it would rip off and could probably take a couple of traps. But yes something would bend or crack pretty quickly. $\endgroup$ – John K Oct 26 at 23:48

No, the F-16 cannot "carrier land", even with the tail hook.

The Air Force jets (aside from any that are shared with the Navy) have tail hooks only for emergency purposes during landing, or securing the aircraft during engine run-up testing. The tail hooks are not designed to arrest an aircraft like it would for a carrier landing, the land-based arresting systems are much gentler on the airframe. The tail hook would get ripped off by the carrier system.

The scenario you present is almost impossible. The jet would have to fly quite some ways out to find a carrier and the carrier would certainly deny landing clearance. They would tell the pilot to eject near the carrier and they would go pluck them out of the water. If ejecting wasn't an option, they would ask them to ditch near the carrier so they could recover them quickly. They could just as easily find a place to land on solid ground for the distance they would have to go.

The issue with landing on the carrier is not just the skill, but all the equipment that is on the deck. If they allowed that to happen, they'd have to clear the deck and the only way to do that quickly is to push the aircraft over the side. As far as I can tell, that has only happened once in history.


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