Sep 262017

Something little known is that the US Navy ran trials of operating a C-130 from an aircraft carrier (the Forrestal). For reasons that seem good to me, I’m pondering the question of whether a C-17 could operate from a modern carrier such as the Nimitz or the Ford.On the surface it looks like no, since the stated takeoff run is about three times the length of the Ford or Nimitz… but with reduced cargo?

Alternatively; what aircraft capable of substantial payloads (mostly passengers) could operate from a modern carrier, while flying at least 2,500 miles?

Yeah, the purpose is fiction. The situation is an emergency, something that has to be slapped together in at most a few days, so it’s not a call for major modifications or a new design.


 Posted by at 11:55 pm
  • Nick Gaston

    You know, I actually tried this, in X-Plane, a few years back…I don’t think I kept a concrete record of the results, but IIRC, I *did* actually manage to get the thing off the deck, with a reduced load (both cargo and fuel).

    Also as I recall, I was having an almost astonishingly easy time with landing or taking off in a DC-3. (I was testing out a story notion about basing a modernized PMC AC-47 clone off of a “SCADS”/”ARAPAHO” container ship aircraft carrier conversion. Admittedly, mostly cause it’d look cool.)

  • allen

    a good pilot, a good headwind, a light load and light fuel…I suppose it’s possible with a C-17

    what sort of speed did you need for this scenario? perhaps the larger experimental cargo airships would work, and could easily land and take off from a carrier. the lockheed-martin LMH-1 is supposed to be able to carry 20 tons, and deliveries start next year.

    • Scottlowther

      Looks like the range on the LMH-1 is only 1500 miles.

      • allen

        so trade some of that cargo for fuel…you’re not carrying 20 tons of people. you can also improve that by dumping the fuel bladders over the side when they’re has a loading ramp

  • Knigh26

    I used to flight test C-17s, including unimproved runway take off and landings. I would say that it could land, but it would be a nasty, nasty landing. Take Off, maybe, MAYBE at minimum take off weight but then they would have to immediately refuel.
    If you are just dropping things off on the carrier, why not just do a cargo drop? Maybe something where the cargo/passengers are palletized and the drogue chute has a hook to grab the arresting cables. If the C-17 then skims the deck there should be minimal risk of the pallet rolling, but it will be a pretty big shock to the cargo and passengers, and tear the snot out of the deck.

    • Paul451

      but it will be a pretty big shock to the cargo and passengers

      Why? The ejection of the pallet shouldn’t jolt the aircraft (hence passengers) worse than a similar sized air-drop at normal altitude.

      And the pallet wouldn’t experience any more deceleration shock from the trapping cables than it would if it was inside a cargo plane being trapped. (Assuming you match the resistance of the cable-system to the mass of the pallets, just as you would with any incoming aircraft.) The only added factor is the height of the drop from the back of the plane to the deck. That can be reduced by doing a touch’n’go just past the trapping cables, and adding some crush layers under the pallet(s).

  • Edward Hering


    • xvdougl

      Some kind of crazy ‘Credible Sport’ version of a C-17? Hopefully with better results. I think the YMC-130 was slapped together in a few weeks. Doing it that quickly today might be a stretch.

    • B-Sabre

      US doesn’t use JATO anymore, and I’m reasonably certain they never qualified the C-17 for that stunt. Heck, the whole point of the C-17 was to not NEED JATO.

  • Ed

    According to Boeing it did both a TO and landing in less that 1400 feet with 20 tons of payload, so, borderline. But probably doable with 40kts+ wind over the bow + a Doolittle raid style drop into ground effect.

  • George

    OK everyone is forgetting one thing-the weight of the C-17, regardless of whether it’s empty, lite load, whatever . Don’t know the specs of the Ford, but all previous carriers were limited to about 100,000 pounds weight for any aircraft. This was established way back in the late forties when the Navy was trying to get into the nuclear bombardment business. The completion that led to the A-3 being introduced into the fleet saw some competing designs at up to 75 tons gross. Ed Heineman reading the political tea leaves, figured the USS United States may not happen so he went out and built a gizmo rig that would slam down weights up to 50 tons on a simulated deck built to be identical to the landing area on an Essex class ship. Aircraft landing was the most stressing thing a carrier has to deal with, Heieman proved up to 50 tons would work; however a C-17 weighs what when about empty-125 tons? On slamming down on landing the C-17 would simply collapse the flight deck onto the hangar deck, and the remaining C-17 flaming parts could possibly penetrate the hangar deck into the ship. Final more practical reason this is a no go-the C-17 is one honking big plane-I doubt the starboard wing would clear the island(especially if the ship was the Ford)

  • Erik Anderson

    When the C-130 did landings on the Forrestal, the problem was not weights (though the Herk had to operate at light weights to make the takeoff and landing distance work out). The problem was wingtip clearance; even with a specially painted centerline (as far to the left side of the deck as anyone could stand) the wingtip clearance to the carrier’s island superstructure was only 10 ft. This was far tighter tolerance than could be tolerated for routine carrier operations; normal centerline tolerance is 25 ft, so….
    The Ford is of course larger than a Forrestal. I doubt it’s large enough to accommodate a C-17, though. Maybe an A400.
    The other problem is the weight; while a C-130 can go 2000 miles with 20 tons, that’s at max gross weight, which is too heavy for a carrier takeoff. If we postulate an aerial refueling (it’s an MC-130, say) this is no problem. Otherwise, no.
    I suspect the only answer that could actually, maybe, sorta work is an A400 Atlas. It’s bigger than a Herk, on a bigger deck, and everything depends on whether there’s enough wingtip clearance to the island.

  • Joseph A Couvillion

    Your real world answer, especially for putting people on a carrier, is a tanker. Add a refueling probe to the C-2 greyhound and have a tanker drag it across the globe. LAPES looked interesting, but for your story these are undoubtedly important people nothing terribly new and novel would be tried.

  • Paul451

    Otherwise normal palletised air-drop, rigged with crash-seats and floatation bags, landing in the water near the carrier, recovered by the carrier’s S&R boats?

  • Ed

    The C 17 has a wingspan of 170 feet, so half span is 85 feet. A quick look at some pictures of the Nimitz class suggests about 65 feet from deck centerline to the inboard edge of the island. So this notional C-17 would have to take off with the nosewheel aligned 30 feet to the outboard edge of the flight deck as it passes the island. Seems kind of doable. I wouldn’t want to *land* with 10′ clearance…
    Weight might be an issue. The cats are supposedly rated for 100,000 lbs, so a lightened C17 at about 200k is at 2X that, which is just below a notional deck safety factor limit of 2.1. I suspect the C17 with its wheels actually distributes its weight out more than a fighter though.