Are the carrier-capable planes designed as carrier-capable from the ground up? Or are they made carrier-capable by modifying a land-capable design?

For example, Mig-29 versus Mig-29K ?

In the latter case, what minimum changes, modifications, or upgrades are required to convert a normal jet plane into a carrier-capable plane?

For example, an F-16 block 50 is not a carrier-capable jet. Is it possible to make it carrier capable by applying minimum modification?


2 Answers 2


Specific modifications will depend on the country and type, but in general:

The obvious:

  • Adding a method of stopping the plane; typically a tailhook. While some land-based planes have a tailhook which can be used in emergency situations, sources seem to differ on the loads this is rated for. The tailhook on a naval aircraft is rated to stop it on a 300 foot long runway, land-based planes might catch the wire at the start of a runway and then take longer to decelerate for a lower load on the hook.
  • Space: Some aircraft are large, so features are added to make then smaller on the deck, such as folding wings or wingtips.
  • Adding a method to launch the plane. For some, catapults are used, typically requiring the nose gear to be able to withstand the load at launch. Other aircraft can be launched without catapults using ski-jumps, or simply just on a flat runway in full afterburner.
  • Depending on the aircraft, additional lift might be required, requiring larger flaps or bigger wings.


The aircraft structures will be strengthened to account for much harder landings. According to one of the answers to this question, a normal carrier landing has a sink rate of approx. 600-800 feet per minute (FPM). This is in contrast to more normal landings where the goal is somewhere between 60-180 FPM.

This doesn't just impact the landing gear, the frame of the aircraft and every system on the aircraft must be capable of absorbing this added load on a regular basis.


Carrier aircraft get exposed to salty water on a more regular basis than land-based planes. To avoid corrosion the aircraft have to be properly designed for, and treated to avoid it. I couldn't find sources with in-depth details, but I'd expect this to be a never ending task.

Aircraft carriers only have so much space, and sending an aircraft off to a depot for heavy maintenance if something breaks isn't really an option. Getting access to important parts of the aircraft is essential, so a land-based aircraft converted to fly from a carrier is likely to have more inspection panels facilitating access to key components.


See this related question: Can an F-16 land on an aircraft carrier, at all?

Airframe, landing gear, tail hook, all much stronger. A carrier landing is mostly a controlled crash. A lot harder than a typical runway landing.

Air to air refueling must be probe and basket capable, vs boom only like on the F-16.

Of course the flight control software is different, but that's just software.

  • $\begingroup$ Are the carrier-capable planes designed as carrier-capable from the ground up? Or are they made carrier-capable by modifying a land-capable design? $\endgroup$
    – user366312
    Oct 16, 2022 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ AFAIK, designed from the start. I know of no jet that started as land-only, and then was 'modified' for carrier use. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Oct 16, 2022 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @WPNSGuy the de Havilland Sea Venom perhaps? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Sea_Venom $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2022 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Dave Gremlin - Good find! Probably the only candidate? $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Oct 17, 2022 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @WPNSGuy the F/A-18 started as the purely land based YF-17 and needed extensive redesign. The US Navy Fury was designed based on the land based F-86. The Soviet MiG-29K is a modified land based MiG-29, and they had versions of the Su-25 and Su-27 planned. A carrier capable F-16 version was planned and under design when the F/A-18 was chosen instead. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Oct 20, 2022 at 3:16

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