Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets
Sailors' cars fill the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during transit up the U.S. West Coast.
January 16th, 2012
11:33 AM ET

Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets

As this third week in January starts, we're learning three things about the U.S. military aircraft carrier program:

- The Pentagon may be looking at reducing the number of carriers in the U.S. fleet from 11 to 10 to save money.

- The military's new F-35C Joint Strike Fighter may not be suitable for carrier use.

- Aircraft carriers make fine automobile transports.

On the first point, The Washington Times reports, citing unnamed sources, that the U.S. Navy may be trying to cut one of its 11 carriers to save money.

Congress has mandated by law that the Navy maintain 11 carriers. But the Pentagon is also under orders from the Obama administration to cut $488 billion from its budget within the next 10 years, Rowan Scarborough reports in the Times.

Cutting a carrier, along with the other forces that make up and support a carrier battle group, could save the Navy billions of dollars, according to the Times report.

An F-35C test aircraft launches from a test catapult in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

As for the F-35C, reports have begun circulating that the aircraft the military says is "the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many warfighters across the globe" won't be able to land on aircraft carriers, apparently because its tailhook is too short and is situated too close to its landing gear for the plane to properly grab the arresting cables that enable planes to land on aircraft carriers.

The report was first seen last week on the website aviationintel.com and was backed up by a report in London's Sunday Times that has been picked up by press across Britain.

Aviationintel.com reported that the design flaw is not fixable because there's just not enough space on the belly of the F-35C to move the tailhook back.

British naval sources said the flaws could place the entire JSF program in jeopardy, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph. Britain was expected to buy about 50 of the planes, the Telegraph reported.

Jim Murphy, the shadow defense secretary, said, "An island nation like ours should be able to operate aeroplanes from an aircraft carrier. The government must come clean on the full impact of the defense review. It's essential we know how long we will be without carrier strike capability," according to the Telegraph report.

Just last week, the U.S. Marine Corps reported it welcomed its first F-35B into its fleet. The first Marine jets will be used for training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Corps said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the website Jalopnik reports that aircraft carriers also make great automobile carriers and save the Navy money in the process.

Photos from the USS Ronald Reagan show its flight deck loaded with the personal vehicles of sailors as the carrier travels along the West Coast to Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington, where the carrier will undergo maintenance.

And the saving money part?

"First, the only other way to get vehicles owned by Navy sailors to their final destinations is to put them in another ship. Second, if they didn't send soldiers' vehicles they'd have to pay for transportation at the final destination. Both of which would absolutely cost more money," Jalopnik points out.

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Filed under: Marines • Military • Pentagon • U.S. Navy • United Kingdom
soundoff (455 Responses)
  1. Crocker's Common Sense

    Solution to the tail hook problem: Design a longer tail hook. There, see how easy that was and you don't even have to pay me any money for thinking of it....

    January 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seraphim0

      Because no one thought of that or tried it.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Garreth

      There is a version of the F35 that can land vertically like a harrier....

      January 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      This is one of the dumbest stories I have ever read!!! The writer obviously has nothing better to do or is just really bad at finding good stories...Thanks for wasting my time today.

      January 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve Hunt

      Hmm, the funny thing about the F35 and carrier landings is that this plane doesn't even need a tail hook. The jet is designed to swivel down providing lift for the back end, and there is a fan that is driven by the jet turbine that provides lift in the front. So this plane can takeoff and land vertically ... VTOL. I've seen video of carrier trials and it's truly awesome!

      January 17, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • agreed

      Or, ones that can extend? Save the original footprint, slightly extruded from original design.

      January 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Marko

    I think it's quite clever use of the empty deck while going to Bremerton anyway. Actually I would question why the Navy would pay someone else to transport sailors cars when they would all fit on the flight deck which is going to the same place as the sailors on board.

    January 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandman

      If they have jets on board they would not carry cars. It's hard to operate the deck when it is that full. Also you need to chain them all down. Not a big deal but you don't want your car to go for a swim with out you.

      January 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Andrew

    Let me get this stright... We helped fund the development of this plane with the intention of it replacing our F/A-18's and F-16's, which are based in large parts on carriers, right? If that was the case, why did we not check to see if this new plane could in fact land on said carrier? If this problem cannot be fixed, we just flushed billions of dollars down the drain. Talk about incompetence at it's finest.

    January 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • sielingfan

      F-18s and F-14s take off from carriers, and those (with the exception of some newer F-18s) will be replaced by the F-35C. The tailhook issue is a speed bump, but seriously this is a *hook* on a machine so complex it has over 10 miles of electrical wiring inside - this is probably the easiest problem that could've possibly been encountered, and we'll figure out a solution.

      F-16s are not carrier-based, and they'll be replaced by the F-35A, a land-based variant that ditches both the tailhook and the VTOL in favor of internal weapon bays, better payload, range, etc. No naval functionality but otherwise an exceptionally capable aircraft.

      January 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • sielingfan

      Tailhooks are a hair shy of rocket science, and those aerospace engineers are a pretty bright bunch.

      January 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not1ofYouPeople

      F14's are already gone...but typical Gov't overspending at it's best!

      January 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. blinet

    the tail hood exerts tremendous forces on the airframe. i can't believe that this was overlooked. military has been plaing this game for so many years and so many generations of aircraft. b.s.! something is going on and the first letter of his name is O

    January 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Same type of snafu with inadequate armor on personnel vehicles in Iraq. I believe the initial then was B, right bud?

      January 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      BS is a good description. But the name is CNN. See why here: www dot youtube dot com/watch_popup?v=Ki86x1WKPmE

      January 17, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TL Scott

    ...At least there will be more parking at NAS North Island!...

    January 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mark

    My question is who is going to pay for the mistake in the design of the planes? We all know the answer is the taxpayers but why should they? The manufacturer obviously didn't know what they were designing girls it would've been done correctly so they should have to bear the costs of the failed design

    January 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. cpc65

    Management is not responsible for theft, damage or accidental launching of vehicles.

    January 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. RetiredVet

    I bet NAS North Island is a ghost town with no carriers in port for 6-12 months. Bring the USS Nimitz back to San Diego.

    January 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • MWG

      Folks on Coronado are loving the lack of carriers in port. No traffic! USS Vinson is due back fairly soon though, and will bring back the "new normal" for Coronado. At best we'll have just one carrier in port at a time until, and if, Reagan returns next year after the overhauls.

      January 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DesignforRequirements-verify-build-test

    If landing on an aircraft carrier wasn't a requirement in the original RFP to the manufacturer, it's the Navy's fault for not including it if the plane is supposed to replace the largely carrier-based jets. If the Navy included it, but the manufacturer, through usual and customary investigation of requirements somehow failed to see that this key requirement needed to be included in the design but failed to do so, the manufacturer should figure it out or bear the cost of failed delivery based on requirements. Send the problem over to the men at NASA, tell them they have a plane, a tail hook, X amount of stress, a catch-space this big, and that they have to come up with a solution to land that plane on a carrier. Should be easier than figuring out problems in space with ad-hoc materials under a time crunch.

    January 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Hobart

      The F-35 program was from the start to be a three-component maximum-commonality system. The A variant was for the Air Force land bases, the B variant was for VTOL/STOL for the Marine Corps, and the C variant was for carrier-based Navy use.

      January 17, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. DellStator

    This plane was ALWAYS supposed to land on carriers.
    It is pretty much impossible to imagine that the folks that invented stealth aircraft, and kept it a secret for a decade, FORGOT to check the dimensions on the tail hook.
    More likely you CANT MAKE A FIGHTER THAT DOES THREE THINGS PERFECTLY, and there was a wink wink deal with the gov't to make a "mistake" that would require a seperate carrier aircraft, at least a longer one, and to offset the extra weight, since that's important in carrier craft, you take out.... and while you're at it, we could really use this on a carrier plane, and that, that presto chango, you get a "new" plane, that maybe shares the same engine, if we're lucky.
    Who should pay for the "mistake", the manufacturer, right after the first prototype flew, they should have had one hoisted onto a carrier and start figuriing out would it "really" work, what might the maint and flight crews have for input, etc..
    Who will pay, the taxpayer, for another 10 yr design program, and a unique carrier aircraft.
    I say keep the one we have now, make some new ones, should be cheap, the production lines are there, the trained workers now unemployed and willing to work for less, and, no ones shooting them out of the sky, everyone we drop a bomb on from them dies, why change it if it ain't broke?

    January 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Woops.

    Way to go, US Military!

    Design a plane for use on an aircraft carrier with a design flaw that prevents it from landing on said aircraft carrier.

    Brilliant! Welcome to the good ol' USA. Where our ideas are outsourced to China to be designed and manufactured to the lowet bidder.

    January 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael Hobart

    Unfortunately once again the military is trying to build one plane to do everything. The difficulties in trying to do that, or even to have one system with three variants with high commonality to save cost, are leading to the same place we've seen before... a system with too many compromises, delays in production, and no real savings or even higher total costs. The F-35 has been struggling to control the weight of the plane for years. The design requirements for carrier landings are well established. It is unfortunate that military planners want systems which will do everything when the public (or at least the politicians) are not willing to pay the price for it.

    January 17, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. raj

    Tail hook cannot be a show stopper for a highly advanced air craft like the F35 JSF. AFAIK it can land vertically using thrust vectoring. Pay load is also not an issue since it will be launched using steam catapults from the existing carriers and electro magnetic launch systems in the Carrier currently being built. Some interest groups are hell bent on culling the F35 program. This country needs its carriers with state of the art F35s which can patrol the worlds oceans to keep the red dragon in check.

    January 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SherwoodOR

    "On the first point, The Washington Times reports, citing unnamed sources, that the U.S. Navy may be trying to cut one of its 11 carriers to save money.

    Congress has mandated by law that the Navy maintain 11 carriers. But the Pentagon is also under orders from the Obama administration to cut $488 billion from its budget within the next 10 years, Rowan Scarborough reports in the Times."

    Apparently, it is NOT the Navy that wants to cut a carrier but rather the Obama Administration that does.

    January 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SherwoodOR

    As to the latest Tailhook Scandal: in this Tailhook Scandal, it is an engineering problem and I'm sure that top people have been brought to bear on it. They'll figure it out.

    January 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
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