Military Wiki

French Dassault Rafale M and American F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft over the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Carrier-based aircraft are military aircraft designed specifically for operations from aircraft carriers. The term is generally applied only to fixed-wing aircraft, as naval helicopters are able to operate from a wider variety of aviation-capable ships. Carrier-based aircraft must be relatively sturdy to withstand demanding carrier operations. They must be able to launch in a short distance and be sturdy enough to withstand the often abrupt forces associated with launching and recovering from a pitching deck and commonly have mechanisms to fold the wings to allow more to be carried on board. These aircraft are designed for many purposes including air-to-air combat, surface attack, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), search and rescue (SAR), transport (COD), weather observation, reconnaissance and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) duties.[1]


The 1903 advent of fixed-wing aircraft was followed in 1910 by the first flight of an aircraft from the deck of the U.S. Navy's USS Birmingham. Seaplanes and seaplane tender support ships, such as HMS Engadine, followed. The development of flat top vessels produced the first large fleet ships. This evolution was well underway by the early 1920s, resulting in ships such as HMS Argus (1918), Hōshō (1922), USS Langley (1922), and the Béarn (1927). With these developments the need for specialized aircraft adapted for takeoffs and landings from the flight decks of these ships became widely recognized.

Grumman Martlet lining up the flight deck of HMS Formidable.

The first carrier landing and take-off of a jet aircraft, by a De Havilland Vampire in 1945.

The significance of air power grew between the wars, driven by the increased range, carrying power, and effectiveness of carrier-launched aircraft, until it became impossible to disregard its importance during World War II, following the loss of many warships to aircraft, including the Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse, the battle of Taranto, the attack on Pearl Harbor and numerous other incidents. Following the war, carrier operations continued to increase in size and importance.[2]


Brazilian Navy A-4 Skyhawk

Sea Harrier STOVL aircraft.

USMC OV-10 Broncos aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Saipan (LHA-2) in 1987.

Su-33 STOBAR aircraft.

Modern carrier-based aircraft are built in mainly three different versions to suit the needs of its various users. Terms are those used currently by the U.S. Navy.

Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery

CATOBAR is a system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier. Under this technique, aircraft launch using a catapult-assisted take off and land (recover) on the ship using arresting wires. Although this system is more costly than alternative methods, it provides greater flexibility in carrier operations, since it allows the aircraft to operate with higher payloads. Ships with CATOBAR currently include: the U.S. Nimitz class, and USS Enterprise (CVN-65) with the F-18 series,[2] France's Charles De Gaulle with Rafales, and Brazil's NAe São Paulo with A-4 Skyhawks.[3]

The use of catapults allows an aircraft carrier to launch large fixed-wing aircraft. For example, the U.S. Navy launches its E-2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft and C-2A Greyhound cargo aircraft with catapults.

Short Take Off and Vertical Landing

STOVL takeoffs are accomplished with "ski-jumps", instead of a catapult. STOVL use usually allows aircraft to carry a larger payload as compared to during VTOL use, while avoiding the complexity of a catapult. The best known example is the Hawker Siddeley Harrier Jump Jet,[4] despite being capable of VTOL takeoffs, is usually operated as a STOVL aircraft to increase its fuel and weapons load.

Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery

STOBAR is a system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier, combining elements of both STOVL and CATOBAR. Aircraft launch under their own power using a ski-jump to assist take-off (rather than using a catapult). These are conventional aircraft however and require arresting wires to land on the ship. The Russian Navy aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov operated the Su-33, in this manner. Another will be the Indian Vikramaditya and the future Vikrant class aircraft carrier; both are likely to operate MiG-29Ks.[5]

Unassisted takeoff

Prior to the increase in aircraft weights experienced during World War II, most carrier aircraft launched under their own power, but required assistance in stopping. Catapults were installed but were used only when the ship was stationary or adequate wind over the deck could not be arranged by sailing into the wind. Even aircraft as large as the North American B-25 Mitchell were launched in this manner. This was possible because the ships speed of nearly 20 knots, combined with a low takeoff speed allowed the aircraft to gain flying speed in a very short distance. The most extreme version of this was the battleship platforms used during the 1920s when small fighters were launched from a platform only a few dozen feet long.

Some STOL aircraft, such as the North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, have been operated from aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships in this manner more recently, but this is no longer common practice.

Modern carrier-based aircraft in service

In service

Under development

See also


  • Chant, Chris. "Aircraft of World War II" Barnes & Noble: New York (1999) ISBN 0-7607-1261-1
  • Collier, Basil. "Japanese Aircraft of World War II" Mayflower: New York (1979) ISBN 0-8317-5137-1
  • Donald, David; Daniel J. March (2001). Carrier Aviation Air Power Directory. Norwalk, CT: AIRtime Publishing. ISBN 1-880588-43-9. 
  • Gunston, Bill. "Combat Aircraft of World War II" Salamander Books: London (1978) ISBN 0-89673-000-X
  • Munson, Kenneth. "Aircraft of World War II" Doubleday: New York
  • Pawlowski, Gareth L. "Flat-Tops and Fledglings" Castle Books: New York (1971) ISBN 0-498-07641-5
  • Clark G. Reynolds. The fast carriers: the forging of an air navy (1968; 1978; 1992)

External links

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