‘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

        The weapons pylons on the Super Hornet are extended outward by about 4 degrees. This was done because testing showed that for some reason when the aircraft had straight pylons a vortex would create and result in bombs dropping, then jumping back up into the aircraft. Canting the pylons out eliminated the problem at the cost of some increased drag.

        Keep in mind though, compared the F-35C’s list of problems, this is small.

        Boeing eventually did find a way to fix the problem with straight pylons, but adding that fix into the production line now would increase it’s price and weaken one of the best advantages that the Super Hornet has: it’s affordability.

        Boeing also has made an Advanced Super Hornet which has no under wing pylons and only uses the centerline one, incorporating armament in a stealthy weapons pod. It also has new additions of RCS reduction features and new RAM coatings to make it more stealthy. The Navy has said that they think Boeing got the Super Hornet’s RCS reduced to a point that makes the jets good enough to beat the threat.

        Even if the Navy doesn’t get approval to buy the Advanced Super Hornet, they already have fully funded classified upgrades that will keep the Super Hornet formidable out to 2030. That Navy is set.

        • oblatt22

          If the F-35 ran into the same problem they would just rewrite the spec so that the aircraft didn’t need to drop bombs.

    • 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.

        • BlackOwl18E

          Don’t even try that, William.

          The Super Hornet fought two wars and has flown way more hours with far fewer problems, all on a lot less money and while arriving on time. You can’t compare the accident rates.

          I don’t see why you think the carrier trial scheduled this October are even worth mentioning. They have been pushed back for years and there’s a good chance that they will be delayed again this year. The mere fact that it hasn’t landed on a carrier yet after having such a large budget and so much development time is a failure.

          • Dfens

            Failure to you, maybe. To Lockheed it’s money in the bank. Hell, if they can get away with moving it one more year out, that’s one more year of making a profit off of development. They’ll laugh all the way to the bank. As long as you tax paying suckers have money, Lockheed has problems. My question is, why do you want to reward a company for failure and then complain when they screw up?

          • William_C1

            Yes that’s true about the F/A-18, and sooner or later an operational F-35 will crash as well, sometimes things just go wrong. This engine issues is still under investigation but it seems limited to that particular aircraft.

            There is no denying that the carrier trials were delayed when it was discovered the tailhook needed a redesign, but thus far the redesign has worked in ground testing and its going to sea in a few months. We’ll all know by then.

            The government does pick up too much of the check for Lockheed’s cost overruns, of course Lockheed’s managers deserve some of the blame but so does the government and its thousands of accountants if they can’t work up a better contract.

          • Dfens

            They can come up with a better contract and they used to do contracting better than they do now. In fact, the way the US government did contracts with weapons suppliers worked great for 200 years. Going back to the ways that worked until the early 1990’s is not exactly what I’d call “high risk” nor does it fit in the “never going to work” category since clearly it did work all the way through the Cold War. I really think if a little day light could be let in with regards to letting the US taxpayer know how their money is being spent the ground swell of public opinion would rapidly put an end to this “profit on development” crap and we’d get back to a defense that we can all be proud of once again. Who’s at fault doesn’t really matter at this point. Getting the system fixed does.

          • BlackOwl18E

            When an F-35C crashes we lose three times the amount of money in that wreck than when we lose a Super Hornet. That’s a big difference. They still don’t know the root cause. I don’t want to hear your guesses. I want to see the results of the investigation when it is completely over. You have no idea what caused this fire anymore than they do.

            Look at the big picture.

            William, you act like the delays are acceptable. They are extremely significant and damaging to us. They’ve never been like as they are with the F-35. In fact, many other weapons programs have been axed for less. The F-35 program has no excuse for having these problems.

            The F-35 is killing our services. With sequestration in place, we have lost a lot of good capabilities, experienced personnel, and upgrades to current weapon systems, all cut to send money to save this one failing weapons program.

            We need to end the F-35 program since it’s like a cancer to our budget. And I’m not just talking about our services. We are also cutting the budget for teachers, schools, police officers, border security, and many other things. This truly has become the most expensive weapons system in the history of mankind and it is eating our budget wholesale.

          • William_C1

            The original schedule of the JSF was overly optimistic, I think that has to be recognized. That said I don’t think the delays are acceptable, but what can be done? By now most of the work has also been done anyway.

            You say we can’t afford the F-35? The truth is we’ve bet so much on this program that we cannot afford to cancel. I wrote a large explanation of why but this damn comment system ate it (automatically deleted by admins) and I’m too pissed to write it all up again.

            To sum it all up you have a huge portion of the aerospace industry involved on this product, there is no realistic alternative to the thousands of F-35s planned, and we would take a massive hit in the export market if were were to cancel the program. Look beyond the Navy’s limited portion of the overall program and at the thousands of aircraft intended for everybody else. Due to the whole “procurement holiday” and decisions following that the F-35 is downright crucial to the future of the USAF, USMC and the UK’s RAF for starters. Cancelling the program won’t fix anything. It will just leave us in a bad spot with the need to redo so much of the work already done.

            I do wish Lockheed could be made to pay the cost overruns. They certainly make enough profits where they can afford to take a hit for their poor management here. What bothers me however is the fact that like so many other corporations in all economic sectors, the CEOs and management are more likely to lay off thousands of workers instead of taking any sort of pay cut.

          • BlackOwl18E

            The original schedule was based on something reasonable from past programs. It was optimistic, but it wasn’t unrealistic.

            Canceling the program would cause us a little pain, but it will be nothing compared to the $1 trillion dollars this thing will take away from our budget over the life of the program.

            The aerospace industry will survive. They are flush with enough cash and well educated personnel. What we really need to rebuild is our infrastructure. We’ve only built about 100 F-35s, each the price of a small warship. It’s not too late to turn back and refuse to build over 2,000 more.

            We are already taking hits in the export market from this program because most of our allies really don’t want this thing. They are only buying it because we told them too. It’s causing them to get rid of a huge chunk of their budget as well and it’s giving us a bad name. When this jet didn’t make it to the international air show in the U.K. we were the laughing stock of it.

            There is nothing about the F-35 that is crucial. All of its capabilities can be compensated for through the use of UAVs, jammers, and other forms intelligence gathering. There is no reason that any of the new systems it has cannot be mounted onto existing aircraft or new UAVs. The F-35 is what’s actually killing the future of the USMC, USAF, and RAF. Look at the list of aircraft that the USAF has had to cut in order to save the F-35. The list is long. They have now resorted to killing existing aircraft, the most recent casualty of which was the A-10. The USMC has killed much needed upgrades to armored vehicles. The AAV7 is planned to be pushing 50-60 years of service because of this BS. Not to mention that all of the services have had to send away some very experienced personnel that they will never get back.

            Don’t even get me started on the RAF. The Typhoon is an exceptional warplane that has been able to take on the F-22 in mock dogfights. The F-35 is weaker than the F-22. They would be completely fine just taking the money that was planned for the JSF and just putting that into turning their QE carriers into catapult driven ones along with buying conventional carrier-based fighter aircraft or a navalized Typhoon. Their defense budget is taking harsher cuts than our is and they don’t have enough money to buy the F-35s that they planned for. Rather than have a formidable force of Typhoons, they’ve had to simply keep cutting the number of F-35s they can buy as the JSF’s unit costs fluctuate.

            Cancelling the program will solve all of these problems. Most importantly, it will send a message to the LM team that they can’t get away with this crap. It will cut their profit margins significantly and it will free up our budget so we can actually use this money in the places where it is really needed: rebuilding our infrastructure, especially our border security.

            Good fighter jets don’t mean anything if you have a weak infrastructure. History has been pretty clear in showing that a strong economy and infrastructure is far more important than having the best weapons.

          • William_C1

            The original schedule was based off thinking “computer modelling means we won’t run into many problems” as well as the typical DoD habit of underestimating the software challenges. In reality the F-35 ran into just as many obstacles as previous programs, actually even more due to the scale of the program and the three variants with unique sets of capabilities.

            Too many software was an after-thought and not considered such a large challenge. When better management took over a few years back they realized how far behind they were and started a crash program to catch up, even so software is the primary reason for the recent delays to IOC. Software development has been a program in many other recent DoD programs, but I lack the experience in that area to say how they can fix that.

            The best chance there was for the F-35 to be cancelled was back in 2010 when things were probably at their worst. At about that time Vice Admiral Venlet took over as manager. Yet it wasn’t cancelled. Since then there have been problems but things have steadily improved since that time. The failure to attend RIAT was a PR failure but is far from the worst thing to ever occur during the program’s history.

            The F-35 is crucial because of its combination of stealth and EW capabilities as well as the numbers of airframes it will provide to replace existing aircraft. UAVs? A Predator isn’t going to survive long against modern air defenses and stealthy UCAVs are still a long way off from being able to fulfill all of the roles the F-35 will have. The USAF was previously trying to replace the A-10 with the F-16, it has little to do with the F-35 itself.

            For whatever reasons the EFV could not be made to reliably work. Now the USMC also has to rethink their plans for amtracks and their LAV replacement because the Navy wants a stand-off distance from shore that not even the EFV could swim. So the USMC needs a “ship-to-shore connector” and then of course new vehicles to take advantage of that with some degree of swimming capability.

            If the USMC loses the F-35B then they don’t have any sort of fighter or attack aircraft that can operate from their LHDs once the Harriers are retired. Considering the possibility that we will have even less aircraft carriers to work with, that capability is all the more important. Now you’re even blaming personnel cuts on the F-35? If you want to know the real reason for those cuts look over at Washington DC.

            Yes the F-35 isn’t the F-22. The F-22 has superior performance compared to the Typhoon but the Typhoon’s HMS and HOBS missiles help even the odds in a dogfight, capabilities that the F-35 will also have. So the RAF cancels their F-35B order and spends a good piece of that money to give their carriers CATOBAR capability. Then what? Spend money to navalize the Typhoon? Buy Rafales or Super Hornets? Those options also cost money and don’t offer the F-35’s stealth or STOVL characteristics which the UK employed so often with the Harrier.

            The fact that many European countries seem content to turn their familiarities into glorified border guards doesn’t mean we should cancel our programs.

            You’re ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the USAF and the huge number of F-35As they plan to buy to represent the bulk of their tactical airpower? What about them? Even if they were able to get more F-22s they’d also need aircraft with greater air-to-ground capabilities than the F-22’s limited ability to carry JDAMs. New F-16s don’t offer anywhere near the same degree of stealth or sensors. New F-15s are too costly to afford in such large numbers and also aren’t as stealthy.

            Regardless of how political pressure factors into our allies plans it is better for us if they buy F-35s instead of more Eurocanards. And they will buy more Eurocanards if the F-35 is cancelled. The possible exception here is Canada. In the East the Russians and Europeans will do their best to sell their aircraft to the nations planning or considering buying the F-35. South Korea might opt for new F-15s but other potential customers are far less certain. Japan will just focus more on their ATD-X effort.

            Starting in the late ’90s the answer given to so many airpower questions was “wait for the JSF, you’ll get what you need then”. This was told to the Navy when A/F-X was cancelled, told to the USAF when they wanted more F-22s, and told to the RAF when they cut their intended Typhoon buy, retired the Jaguar, and retired the Harrier. Some in Congress were even saying the same thing back when the Super Hornet program wasn’t doing to so well and they wanted it cancelled.

          • William_C1

            So you’d cancel JSF and say “wait until ____, you’ll get what you need then”? We’ve waited long enough here. We’ve set ourselves up with no alternative and we’re long past the point where we could have cancelled the program. There is simply no going back now.

            All of the money in the world for infrastructure doesn’t mean anything if the government can’t manage things properly. How much has gone towards infrastructure in the stimulus packages? Border security will also never happen as long as we have so many in Washington DC who don’t even take it seriously, or worse yet see more illegals as an opportunity to secure their own political future.

          • Dfens

            The Navy is paying up to $2 billion each for LCS ships, $4 billion each for DDG’s, $4.5 billion to “refuel” a carrier, $12 billion for new carriers, and that’s not even to mention the vast fortunes they’ve spent designing those crappy ships, but their problem is the F-35? Oh, and the next program will be better. The defense contractors already told the Navy that, and they would never lie.

  • 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.