• Naval Flight Operations - An Evaluation And Critique

    Naval Flight Operations - An Evaluation And Critique

    By Ray Hill

    Throughout the history of flight, naval aviation has always been far more challenging than land operations. The naval flight spectrum, taking account of the need of any marine arm, has operated a broad spectrum from landplanes, seaplanes, shipborne catapult launches (e.g. from cruisers and CAM merchantmen), rotary wings, from almost anything that floats (civil as well). Finally of course there are the aircraft carriers. I will ignore the nasty flying things that come out of submarines these days.

    The X-Plane platform offers some access to this type of flying, although in my opinion, they could offer customers far more, even as a $20 cost option. Out of the box we get the Nimitz and the Perry, plus an oil rig, and sometimes even a sloop enjoying a life of leisure. In their own right they are all reasonable enough; the Perry and oil rig are equipped for rotary operations, maybe even VTOL (I remember a P1127 practising landings on our old cruiser HMS Tiger). Nimitz of course is well equipped for CATOBAR operation, but the downside is that there is no option to set up a non catapult launch for something like a Harrier/AV8 Osprey or F35, unless you land it on the deck first and then save it as as a .sit file. Those simmers not familiar with aircraft landings, will have immense difficulty landing on Nimitz because the special situation for the 'carrier landing' does not offer enough time to get the aeroplane into a stable situation. Why oh why if you use Shift+4, does it stupidly give you a front view? A workaround for some of these problems is to take off from a shore based strip and then find the carrier. X-Plane is pretty smart, in that it will always put Nimitz somewhere near to your start position (you can open the map to find it). If you want to do a water start for a seaplane (in the UK we seem to get Loch Lomond as our default), you could equally take off from Southampton airport, land in Portsmouth Harbour and then save it as a .sit file.

    Landing on a carrier involves a moving runway at roughly 20 kts, and if the carrier is heading into a 15 kt headwind, we get 35 kts. If our jet has a stall speed of maybe 160 kts, we can hit the deck at around a relative 105 kts groundspeed. In a high sea the deck of the Nimitz may pitch through a range of more than 50 feet, so if we are on approach and the rear deck is down, we may overshoot the arrestor wires, and likewise, if it is pitched up, we may well slam into the stern. Not sure if there is any truth to this, but apparently someone mentioned that the US Navy could never have carried out the Falklands operation as they would have been unable to fly high speed jets in heavy sea states; whereas VTOL planes (used by the RAF), are more adaptable - that is not to say it is easier however. Anyway, whether this is old wives gossip, I cannot possibly comment further.

    Be careful of possible wind effect from the bridge; a good skipper will hold the ship dead into the wind, but it may shear. However I am unsure if .obj files for ships have any actually simulated aerodynamic value; it may be just a spook from a wobbly hand.

    Apart from Nimitz and Perry, there are a few other alternative carriers (freeware), in which to try your hand at landings:

    Queen Elizabeth, a new build recently published by MRL:

    hms_queen_elizabeth.zip

    One of my own:

    future_royal_navy.zip

    Operational testing done in X-Plane 11.30.

    With MRL's Queen Elizabeth loaded up, I thought I'd send my 'spy plane' out for a clandestine visit. On the way back, I used the XCARR (Nimitz) approach scenario.

    Naval flight ops

    Naval flight ops     Naval flight ops

    The build of this carrier is exceptionally good, possibly as good as Nimitz. It is however, rather let down by some problems which probably have more to do with the limitations within X-Plane, rather than the skills of the talented author. For starters, the bow wave is too far forward, and the stern wave cuts off too sharply. In my opinion, it should be staggered and broken up a bit. It also requires a Cat Shot for take off, but Queen Elizabeth will never have one, and if you load the 'Cat Shot' situation, your plane is rudely dumped into the sea. My analysis makes me think that the ramp start for the cat shot is set close to the bow wave, so ultimately only dimensioned for Nimitz (if Laminar have features to fix this, they should publish them). I suspect if MRL set his ship up so the bow wave was at the stern, it may go some way to fixing this issue - at the expense of the stern wave being a long way back.

    Naval flight ops     Naval flight ops

    Naval flight ops     Naval flight ops

    Conclusions

    The default carrier, Nimitz, provides a realistic platform for USN operations. However, since all ops are built on that default model, Laminar really ought to improve carrier handling. With that in mind, here are some ideas about how they could possibly go about it.

    1. Provide a naval operations menu option, complete with a drop down list of carrier choice.

    2. Provide carrier builders with a framework of rules, so they can put it into something like a .prefs file.

    For example, this would need to contain basic parameters:

    1. Ship length, against which, software can position both bow and stern wakes
    2. Cat on/off
    3. Deck height
    4. Ramp start position
    5. Arrestor wire position
    6. Catch net position (we don't want to write off £800,000 of F35 parked on the deck of a modern carrier)
    7. The ability to import a custom catapult, e.g. for a cruiser/battleship or armed merchantman CAM ship. Nice to have a Kingfisher launched from the back of USS Missouri or a Walrus from HMS Belfast.

    3. Geographical start co-ordinates so we con override the default location; this could also be applied to seaplanes.

    If enough people start taking about this, maybe Laminar will improve matters, or maybe it's possible to write a 3rd party plugin?

    I just love the Brit' calling the "Ball Bar" & "Wave Orft".

    Happy landing shipmates.

    Ray Hill
    www.rayhillwrites.com

    Tags: naval flight

    3 Comments
    1. Mal's Avatar
      Mal -
      Hi Ray
      Thanks for your kind comments about my QNLZ model. It was unfortunately necessary to move the ship position 130m aft, otherwise you could be happily taxiing after a nice landing, then be unceremoniously catapulted off the ship! The misplaced bow wave is a shame, but unavoidable. As you say, it would be nice if there were customisable carrier settings to make it more flexible. By the way, just for fun it is possible to ride the aircraft lifts down to the hangar deck, but sadly the simulation can't cope if you try to taxi into it. A shame because I was going to put a 'turntable' down there to turn the aircraft round!
      Best regards
      MRL
    1. vascoribeiro's Avatar
      vascoribeiro -
      Hi Ray, nice article. The HMS Illustrious is coming to Flightsim.com!
    1. RayH's Avatar
      RayH -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mal View Post
      Hi Ray
      Thanks for your kind comments about my QNLZ model. It was unfortunately necessary to move the ship position 130m aft, otherwise you could be happily taxiing after a nice landing, then be unceremoniously catapulted off the ship! The misplaced bow wave is a shame, but unavoidable. As you say, it would be nice if there were customisable carrier settings to make it more flexible. By the way, just for fun it is possible to ride the aircraft lifts down to the hangar deck, but sadly the simulation can't cope if you try to taxi into it. A shame because I was going to put a 'turntable' down there to turn the aircraft round!
      Best regards
      MRL
      Mal, thats an interesting point, the problem must condense to having 3 hard surfaces: flight deck, elevator and hangar deck. So one runway above another with some jiggery pockery to move between the two. It's almost like towing an airliner with a tug (I think people already do this) + a vertical motion (not seen it so far). I smell a custom dataref required for vertical transposition (unfortunately its not in my skill set or I would happily do it). Be great if weapon loads could be accomplished down in the hangar deck. Anyway if enough people start talking about it on a regular basis maybe it will find its way to Mr Austin's in-tray.
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