‘Magic Carpet’ to Make Carrier Landings Easier on F/A-18 Pilots

080302-N-1023B-061FARNBOROUGH, England — The Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet program is working closely with the Office of Naval Research to explore technological enhancements to extend its service life well into the 2030’s and beyond, service officials said at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Alongside  upgrades to the platform that are already underway such as targeting improvements and experimentation with conformal fuel tanks and an external weapons pod, the Navy is planning upgrades to the plane’s sensors, radar and computer  systems, said Capt. Frank Morley, program manager for the F/A-18 and EA-18G Growler.

While the Navy is making progress with existing modifications to the platform, the service is also looking into slightly longer-term surface-warfare upgrades to the aircraft such as improving the active electronically scanned array radar and forward looking infrared radar technologies, Morley said.

In particular, one effort involves research into a technology known as the “Magic Carpet,” a series of flight control algorithms developed by the Navy to improve control of the airplane as it maintains a glide slope and lands on the deck of a carrier, Morley explained.

“When you land on a carrier it is all about lag time. It is about precision – you correct and then re-correct to maintain a precise glide slope. You are in this continual correction mode which requires a lot of efficiency to do it well. If you are able to use flight controls, you can cut the lag out of that to a much greater extent,” Morley added.

With the flight control algorithms, pilots will need a lot less time to become efficient at landing on the carrier deck.  Depending upon how things progress with this technology, operational squadrons may push to make it a program of record, he said.

“If we can cut down the amount of time we spend practicing to land on a carrier, those hours can now be used for other things — more time for training on complex weapons systems,” he said.

Meanwhile, this research and technological development is happening in tandem with ongoing upgrades to the plane. There are near term efforts such as the ongoing initiative to outfit 170 F/A-18E/F Block II fighter jets with a next-generation infrared sensor designed to locate air-to-air target in a high-threat electronic attack environment.

Infrared search and track, or IRST, system, is a long range sensor that searches for and detect infrared emissions, Navy officials said. Slated to be operational by 2017, the system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability.

“The story of F-18 has been one of evolutionary development throughout its lifetime. This is no different now as we continue to evolve Super Hornet and pace the threat,” Morley said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • William_C1

    Are these just refinements to the flight controls or is some part of the carrier landing process going to actually be automated?

    Would be nice if they could straighten out the weapons pylons too.

    • ronaldo

      Please explain the comment on weapons pylons.

    • BlackOwl18E

      Would be nice if Lockheed could get an F-35C to land on a carrier too now wouldn’t it?

      It would also be nice if they could get the F-35s to stop leaking oil, setting themselves on fire, and getting grounded all the time.

      • William_C1

        One would think no F/A-18 has ever crashed judging from your comments. Carrier trials are still planned for October of this year.

  • stephen russell

    Id install in the Gerald R Ford class alone then retro fit for Nimitz types alone.
    Awesome, save carrier pilots & less stress when landing alone.

  • doug

    I thought the Hornets had an carrier hands off landing capability but the pilots weren’t allowed to use it because it would take away their landing proficiency?

  • BlackOwl18E

    Actually, there already is software that will allow the Super Hornet to land automatically.

    This is about softening the impact it makes on deck. Landing on a carrier puts the aircraft under immense stress. The Super Hornet was built as a Navy aircraft from the ground up so it has an airframe that’s reinforced to withstand the stress. However, trapping a wire is still the most stressful activity that the Super Hornet does on a regular basis and causes the most wear and tear on the airframe.

    The Navy wants to shorten training on carrier traps so as to lessen the amount of times the jets slam on the deck, which will keep the airframes young. The fewer traps they do the longer those airframes will last. They’re seeking to make the Super Hornets and Growlers last a lot longer and require less maintenance. This news excites me for one reason:

    What the Navy is trying to do is extend the life of the F/A-18 fleet by any way they can. Why are they doing this? It’s pretty obvious. They know that it’s going to be the only fighter they’ll have and the only one they’ll need for a long time. The F-35C sure isn’t coming anytime soon.

    Take a look at the key words in the first paragraph of this article when describing what they want to do with the Super Hornet:

    “…extend its service life well into the 2030’s and beyond.”

    If those words are to be taken literally (which they clearly are), it raises the possibility that we could be seeing Super Hornets and Growlers still in service all the way out to 2040. That’s news to even me. This article was definitely news worthy.

  • quest

    why is it necessary to develop some sort of “magic carpet” now? has the SH been having problems landing?

    what’s so magic about the “magic carpet”?

    from the description in the report, it’s nothing more than an “improvement” even according to the Navy.

    is this news worthy?

    • Just off of the wall, back in WWII, the British had to teach us how to land our great F4U Corsairs on the carriers, safely. You learn from who ever you can. I think Growlers are sexy.

  • Beno

    Its news worthy because it improves safty, could save £1B over the life of the project and may possibly allow carrier operation in higher sea states and weather conditions. And that is a fairly big tactical differnece.

  • Beno

    Id just like to Note this was originally developed by the UK for Harrier :)

  • Bernard

    It’s nice to see drone technology making fighter jets safer. It’s like landing an X47-B.

  • Dickie Cockpit

    My take away is that improving the software is going to lessen the pounding the FA-18 takes and increase it’s usable service life. And that is excellent news.
    When the F35’s become operational continuing improvements in software will hone the existing capabilities as well as adding new, as yet uninvented, ones for many, many years. The fact that the F35 is a flying supercomputer provides the platform for upgrades way beyond what could ever be done with the SH.
    I say keep both A/C for now. Cut welfare, food stamps, and foreign aide to enemy governments to pay for it.

  • Los

    I mention:
    Electra, willie victors, Raptor, R7v Super Connie’s, L1011, C5, C130, … ALL Aircraft from the designers, troops of Lockheed Georgia & 50 states of SBO’s contracted with the best aerospace company of this or the last century!

  • buzzsaw

    Someone needs to read up on their history. There were systems available on aircraft as early as the 1960’s which would allow “hands off” landing on aircraft carriers. Just no pilots with the willingness to use it. Considering the concept of a 65,000 lb aircraft closing on the rear of a multi-ton ship at in excess of 120 knots, I can’t say I blame any of them.