Today my Dad talks about aircraft carrier landing of planes aboard HMS Ocean. It seems it was quite a dangerous activity.
Flying from a carrier at sea was a hazardous task for the pilot. I have mentioned the take off but the riskier process was the return. At the end of the flight the two (or more as the case might be) planes would descend to about 200 feet above sea level and fly up the starboard side in the same direction as the ship was travelling, proceed some 3-4 miles ahead and turn to the left until they were going in the opposite direction of the ship some 3-4 miles off the port side and almost disappear into the far distance beyond the ship which was now turning into the wind and increasing to maximum speed.
The flight deck was now completely clear of crew apart the Landing Control Officer or batsman who stood on the edge of the flight deck on the port side where he could be seen by the incoming pilot. The batsman held in each hand a bat not unlike a ping pong bat which he used to signal the pilot.
The snag here was that the pilot who had to bring in and land with the nose up could not see over the engine and propeller. The pilot had to look out of the cockpit sideways to the left to keep the batsman in view and yet in the last few yards of his approach to the flight deck the plane had to be flying straight towards the centre of the flight deck and to be at the right height above it. He relied completely on the signals of the batsman to know the aircraft altitude. The landing speed at this point meant that the Seafire was travelling at 80 mph.
The trick was to land nose up so that a hook below the tail wheel picked up on one of three cables stretched 6 inches high above the deck and one of which would operate hydraulically to stop the plane in 20 yards. Various things could happen here.
Firstly if the pilot’s approach was wrong the batsman would wave the pilot off to do another circuit. The plane would then be screaming down the length of the flight deck at zero feet on full throttle.
Alternatively if the hook caught one of the wires it could be torn out of the plane if the landing was too fast or was bouncing and the plane would got at a fast speed into a safety net across the flight deck. This would have the same effect as the hook missing the arrestor wire completely. Hitting the safety net could land the plane on its nose.
Sometimes I’ve seen the batsman jump for his life backwards off the flight deck when a plane comes too near the edge. Fortunately there was a safety net behind the batsman to stop him falling overboard.
Sometimes a plane’s wheel may collapse and the plane does a swift left or right turn and finish up over the edge of the flight deck and part way into the gun sponson just below. Failing that the next stop is the sea.
Collapse of the right undercarriage leg would take the plane nose first into the ship’s island. Either alternative (or collapse of both legs) could have serious consequences for the pilot.
Accidents like these were not infrequent.
Once the plane was down in one piece the pilot jumps out of the cockpit and goes straight into the island to report his presence. Meanwhile the aircraft has to be manhandled by the flight deck handlers to the forward part of the flight deck where it is parked with wings folded to allow room for the next plane to touch down.
As this point I have to make a swift dash to retrieve the pilot’s chute and dinghy because at the earliest opportunity the plane ill be put on the forward lift in the middle of the flight deck and lowered into the hangar two decks down. It is an awkward journey if the chute and dinghy has gone into the hangar to get it back up to the flight deck level through watertight doors and stairs and hatches.