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Animation of a missed landing on a centreline flight deck (Yorktown class aircraft carrier)

Animation of a missed landing, or bolter, on an angled flight deck (Centaur class aircraft carrier)

In naval aviation, a bolter occurs when an aircraft attempting an arrested landing on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier touches down, but fails to catch an arrestor cable and come to a stop.[1][2] Bolter aircraft accelerate at full throttle and become airborne in order to go around to re-attempt the landing.[2]

Prior to the development of the angled flight deck, aircraft carrier landing areas ran along the axis of the ship. If an aircraft failed to catch an arrestor cable on the aft (rear) of the ship, it would still need to be stopped prior to hitting aircraft spotted (parked or taxiing) on the forward half of the deck.[2] With aircraft spotted on the forward half of the flight deck, there was not enough room for an aircraft to become airborne again after missing the arrestor wires. Bringing an aircraft that failed to engage an arrestor cable to a stop was accomplished with either a wire "barrier", rigged amidships and raised to catch the aircraft's landing gear, or a net "barricade" that would engage the aircraft's wings. Either method often resulted in damage to the aircraft and required time to disengage. The introduction of jet aircraft for carrier operations in the early 1950s, with their greater mass and higher approach speeds, exacerbated the problem.[2]

Photograph from behined a twin-engined jet fighter. The aircraft's wheels are on the surface, but the engines are still active, and a hook on the underside of the aircraft is in contact with the surface and trailing sparks

An F/A-18C Hornet that has failed to land on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, and is attempting to bolter.

The British-developed angled flight deck solved the problem of aircraft that failed to engage an arrestor wire, and created the routine option for aircraft to "bolter".[2] By angling the landing area off the ship's axis, thus "removing" obstructions forward of the landing area, aircraft that failed to arrest – that bolter – simply accelerate down the landing area and become airborne again. Bolter aircraft then climb back to landing pattern altitude and sequence in with other landing aircraft to re-attempt the landing.[3] These bolter aircraft are said to be in the "bolter pattern".[3]

The British first described aircraft that failed to arrest as bolters.[4] When an aircraft bolters on a United States Navy carrier, the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) often transmits "bolter, bolter, bolter" over the radio. United States Navy LSOs 'grade' each carrier landing attempt on a scale of 0-5.[5] Assuming the approach was safe and at least "average", a bolter is graded as 2.5.[5] For unsafe or below average approaches that result in bolter, a grade of 2 is assigned.[5]

See also


  1. "OPNAV INSTRUCTION 3710.7T". US Navy. US Navy. Retrieved 10 October 2009. [dead link]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "The angled flight deck". Sea Power Centre Australia. Royal Australian Navy. Archived from the original on 1 November 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Llinares, Rick (2006). Strike: Beyond Top Gun: U.S. Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. Zenith Imprint. p. 25. ISBN 0-7603-2525-1. Retrieved 10 December 2008. 
  4. Brown, Charles H. (1999). Dark Sky, Black Sea: Aircraft Carrier Night and All-Weather Operations. Naval Institute Press. p. 107. ISBN 1-55750-185-8. Retrieved 10 December 2008. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Llinares, Strike: Beyond Top Gun, p. 23

External links