Carrier landings as smooth as magic carpet rides

Carrier landings as smooth as magic carpet rides

One of the most stressful tasks a fighter pilot faces is about to get easier thanks to new software designed to make landing on aircraft carriers as smooth as a magic carpet ride.

The Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies, or Magic Carpet, will simplify carrier landings and improve safety, efficiency and success rates. The software, which is programmed within the existing flight control computers (FCC) of the planes, reduces the pilot’s workload during the approach.

Pilots make hundreds of individual adjustments to safely land on an aircraft carrier. They must align glide slope, angle of attack and lineup, all right down to the wire -- often at night, in bad weather and after a strenuous mission. Magic Carpet uses direct lift control to make the necessary adjustments to keep the aircraft on course, which simplifies the pilot’s job of compensating for several different factors in the approach.

"Before, if a pilot made one small change to any of these it would affect all the other things,” Capt. David Kindley, the program manager for the F/A-18 and EA-18G aircraft, said. "With the technology, we decoupled the glide slope, angle of attack and lineup into three separate pieces…. If the pilot wants to adjust glide slope, he just pushes the stick without changing the power or anything else,” he said.

The pilot still has direct command and control of the desired parameter, flight path angle and speed, but can focus on one thing at a time and let the software do the rest.

“The pilot no longer has to determine the right pitch, attitude and engine thrust to get to the desired flight path angle,” said Michael Land, a public affairs officer in the Program Executive Office for Tactical Aircraft with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). “He/she commands that directly with the cockpit control stick and the FCC delivers that exact flight path angle. ... This concept is a fundamental change in how we fly airplanes today.”

James “Buddy” Denham, senior engineer with Naval Air Systems Command, developed Magic Carpet at the F/A-18 and EA-18G program office and was instrumental in the concept and design of the software. Land said Denham came up with the idea while leading shipboard developmental flight controls testing in 2008.

Because landing on an aircraft carrier has traditionally been such a difficult task, it has required extensive training, which costs time and money. With Magic Carpet, there’s a potential to be able to put some of those resources and funding into tactical training rather than the administrative task of landing, the Navy said. The technology can also reduce fuel and workload strain on the aircraft and aircraft carrier gear.

The initial software is expected to be released in October, and the final fleet release version of the technology is expected in 2019.

About the Author

Bianca Spinosa is an Editorial Fellow at FCW.

Spinosa covers a variety of federal technology news for FCW including workforce development, women in tech, and the intersection of start-ups and agencies. Prior to joining FCW, she was a TV journalist for more than six years, reporting local news in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Spinosa is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Writing at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Click here for previous articles by Spinosa, or connect with her on Twitter: @BSpinosa.


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