Could a Cessna land on an aircraft carrier?

January 27, 2009

Hi. I'm a screenwriter and I'm working on a film in which a light aircraft such as a Cessna needs to land on an aircraft carrier at sea. I'd like to know if this is at all possible and if so, is there any emergency situation in which it would be preferable to land on an aircraft carrier rather than ditch into the sea? Thanks for your help!

If it was a bona fide emergency the captain might just order the crash nets up and let you take your chances. I'm sure a crash net could stop a Cessna.

The more likely scenario would be that you would be '"encouraged"' to ditch the aircraft in the pond and they would send the rescue divers out after you. I'm sure the Navy has rules about letting civilian pilots damage their boats whilst crashing into their decks.


14 Responses to “Could a Cessna land on an aircraft carrier?”

  1. remowlms on January 27th, 2009 2:49 pm

    Landing distances depend on the type of aircraft, the weight and the ambient temperature. It could be done with a small plane, however, the Navy would never allow it no matter what the plane emergency is – they would shoot it down before it ever got on the approach…
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  2. Mark on January 27th, 2009 3:38 pm

    Yes. Planes without tailhooks landed safely on aircraft carriers off Viet Nam sometimes. It was prearranged. They'd deliver stuff.

    Not at all difficult for a single-engine Cessna. The speed of the carrier and the speed of any headwind combine to make the landing, rollout, and takeoff (without net, arresting cables, or catapult) quite feasible. –Already been done.
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  3. George P on January 27th, 2009 4:00 pm

    I am sure you could, however, you might not get too far. I am sure the Capt of the aircraft carrier would deny you access to his/her ship. If you just tried to land, you would probably be shot down before getting there.
    Even if you were authorized, you might be able to stop before falling off the ship. Since the Cessna probably wouldn't have the tail-hook, then the Cessna would have to stop pretty quickly.
    Also, it would depend on how far away the ship was at sea. And you would have to know where the ship was located to know where to go. If all that did work out, then I guess it could.

    Also, keep in mind, its a film. If you want to land a Cessna on an Aircraft Carrier, write it in the story. If your story gets made into a movie, the scene will happen, whether real or not. Look at all the movies out there, the stunts that are performed is all done in the editing room. Yes, they do the stunts, but usually it takes a few takes ,and then they piece together the end result.
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  4. DoH on January 27th, 2009 4:05 pm

    Possible, I suppose so. When jets land on a carrier they do it with their engines still under power so they can go up again if they miss. That is why they come in so hot. A carrier is capable of 30+ kmph, a Cessna could do maybe 120kmph. In theory with the carrier going near full speed the Cessna could hit the deck and come to a stop without needing the tail hook. If you don't care about the Cessna, they could put up a net to prevent it from going over the end, but that would destroy the propeller and probably the front landing gear. If they don't come to a stop in time, the Cessna goes over the bow, then it's run over by the carrier.

    That being said, the pilot of the Cessna would have to really know their stuff. Maybe an ex-Navy pilot with carrier experience could do it. Certainly not your average civilian pilot. The deck on the carrier is not only moving forward, but it's also pitching up/down and side to side. It's not an easy target to hit under the best of circumstances. Your story would only have credibility if the character of the pilot had credibility as a fighter pilot.
    References :
    Landed helicopters on a moving ship.

  5. Life Is Good on January 27th, 2009 4:52 pm

    If it was a bona fide emergency the captain might just order the crash nets up and let you take your chances. I'm sure a crash net could stop a Cessna.

    The more likely scenario would be that you would be '"encouraged"' to ditch the aircraft in the pond and they would send the rescue divers out after you. I'm sure the Navy has rules about letting civilian pilots damage their boats whilst crashing into their decks.
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    BTW – my wife has informed me that she saw a made-for-TV movie years ago that covers this. The pilot had a heart attack and his kid insisted on a deck landing and actually tried it. The plane ended up in the drink anyway and they had to send the divers in after them.

  6. Techwing on January 27th, 2009 5:28 pm

    A Cessna could certainly land on an aircraft carrier. Landing on a carrier would always be preferable to ditching. It's a bit difficult to imagine plausible scenarios in which a civilian Cessna would find it expedient to make an emergency landing on an aircraft carrier, but it is technically feasible.
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  7. grumpy geezer on January 27th, 2009 6:09 pm

    It is possible. Your Cessna 150 will take up about 450 ft. for landing at sea level, no wind. With your carrier going 20 kts into a 10 kt. breeze, your landing roll will be shortened considerably. Yeah it could be done with a 172 as well with plenty of deck space left over. Of course there would be some VERY extraordinary circumstances allowing for you to be permitted to do this. Saigon 1975 immediately comes to mind.

    You're writing a screenplay, anything is possible.
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  8. threesheave on January 27th, 2009 6:59 pm

    It is most certainly possible, but like has been pointed out above, highly unlikely. It has happened…

    The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog has the distinction of being the only Cessna known to have been landed on a carrier.

    Go here to read more about it:

    If you ever check out active aircraft carriers that are docked, they nearly always have one aircraft parked near the center of the runway to prevent touch and goes by the silly boys from the local airports. The carriers at Bremerton that are mothballed have other items on the deck to preclude errant landings. One of them clearly has an anchor on the deck and all have large (truck sized) boxes on them. (Google Earth)

    Good luck with your film!
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  9. Alloy Boy on January 27th, 2009 7:06 pm

    Yes its possible, and like others have said, its has been done in Vietnam. Google- birdog- vietnam- aircraft carrier landing. I'm sure it will come up.
    the actual plane is on the website with a description.

    These days the Navy would probably make the pilot ditch in the sea and just have a helicopter pick him or her up. But if the carrier were going at a good clip into the wind, a Cessna could conceivably touch down with probably next to no ground roll. Of course the pitching deck would be an issue. For your story, the pilot could tell the Navy that he's ditching alongside the carrier but then changes his mind at the last moment and heads for the deck. In real life he might get shot down though, so to be logical, I'd have him land on the deck and the phalanx gunners somehow mess up when the order came to shoot.
    References :
    used to cover scripts in hollywood, i'm a pilot/A&P now.

  10. Pilsner Man on January 27th, 2009 7:56 pm

    What grumpy said. hell, with a cruise into a wind, the cessna would come in almost like a helo.
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  11. Jerry M on January 27th, 2009 8:07 pm

    In calm seas with the carrier cruising at 30 knots into a 17 knot headwind a Cessna 150 would land with no forward speed at all. It would look like a helicopter as it touched down. Stall speed on a 150 is 47 knots. The landing would be a piece of cake for even a student pilot. As mentioned by other posters, the problem would be getting permission from the captain. I'd be willing to bet that the Navy would welcome such an occasion for a bona fide movie. 3500 hour flight instructor.
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  12. a1graymatter on January 27th, 2009 8:55 pm

    YES!! Always better to land than to ditch!! Ditch a plane and get hurt for sure!!
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  13. Thom on January 27th, 2009 9:14 pm

    I could easily land a 172 or 152 on an a/c carrier. I only need a little more than 700 feet, and the a/c carrier runway is usually into the wind which reduces my ground speed. So, yes, it could, very easily.
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    I'm a pilot – nearly five years

  14. gus_sniffer on January 27th, 2009 9:31 pm

    I fly a cessna 182 and can land on areas as short as 600 feet if done perfectly. Given that no trees/obstacles would need to be cleared on a carrier, it would indeed be possible.

    However, like most others have noted, it would take extraordinary circumstances for that to be allowed. I guess that is the advantage you have with writing fiction…you can make the circumstances fit your needs.
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