Navy Rolls Out "Magic Carpet" for Carrier Landings

A Super Hornet lands on the carrier John C. Stennis (courtesy USN)

By MarEx 2016-08-11 21:25:41

The Navy is rolling out the carpet for its carrier-based aircraft – the "Magic Carpet," a computer-assisted landing system designed to take some of the risk out of landing on the deck of a moving ship. But unlike the push towards software-based autonomy in other naval systems – like the X-47 fighter or the ACTUV surface craft –Magic Carpet is designed only to aid the pilot in a dangerous everyday task.

Magic Carpet does not make a plane self-landing: the pilot still controls the aircraft's flight path, but software takes care of the hundreds of minor control surface adjustments needed to keep on track, simplifying the task. The system maintains a standard glideslope and leaves the pilot free to make adjustments to the approach with the stick alone. It also gives a visual indication of the aircraft carrier's velocity and the projected location of the moving landing zone, allowing the pilot to simply line up on a virtual target. 

Testing showed that software-aided landings were much more frequently within the optimal target zone for catching the arresting wires. Fully two thirds were within 20 feet of the target, twice as accurate as a set of unaided landings made for purposes of comparison. These results included tests made under deliberately challenging conditions including crosswinds, unbalanced aircraft loading and intentionally bad approaches.

The first of the software-assisted landings were conducted in early 2015, and the Navy completed system testing this summer. It intends to make the system widely available in September on its F/A 18E and F/A 18F Super Hornet fighter-bombers. (Earlier generations will not get the upgrade.) Boeing is working on an improved edition with quadruple redundancy and damage-condition capabilities, due in 2018-19, and while the Navy had thought to wait for the highly redundant edition to begin deploying the system, leaders were so impressed that they wanted to let the fleet begin working with it right away. 

 The Navy foresees a wide range of benefits: less time training pilots to land, leaving more for combat skills development; reduced stress on the landing gear and the plane, reducing maintenance requirements; and speeding up aircraft recovery operations, which typically constrain a carrier's heading and speed in order to optimize landing conditions. 

"Magic Carpet is an evolutionary improvement in aircraft carrier landings," said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces. "This technology innovation will ease pilot workload, improve overall recovery time and reduce tanker requirements. These significant changes will make naval aviation even more effective and efficient and improve the offensive capability of the carrier strike group."