The Navy will be testing new software and lighting that could help pilots accurately land on aircraft carrier decks despite rolling seas. If successful, the technology should boost safety, reduce training requirements, and cut maintenance costs by lowering the number of hard landings.
Currently, Navy and Marine pilots constantly adjust speed and altitude to stay on the proper glide path to a touchdown on a carrier’s heaving deck. A Fresnel light tied to a landing system lets approaching pilots know if they are above or below the glide path. Lining up with the angled and moving landing deck takes place with the help of Landing Signal Officers on the rear of the ship observing each approach.
In the new system, what’s called a Bedford Array of lights embedded in the flight deck down the center of the landing area is controlled in part by the ship’s pitch and roll. The brightest light an approaching pilot sees at any time represents a visual target stabilized with respect to the proper glideslope for his or her aircraft. Meanwhile, the pilot’s heads-up display shows a dotted green line. It represents the plane’s future flight path based on real-time inputs from the cockpit’s control stick. The pilot maneuvers the dotted line, along with his plane, to pass over the stabilized target light on the ship’s deck, and the aircraft will do what is necessary to ensure it touches down at the right spot.