Carrier Landings


As an old naval aviator with many night carrier landings—the ultimate black hole—I could not help but notice there was no reference to using the PAPI on glideslope in Jim Wolper’s February 2023 article, “The Black-Hole Approach.” On the carrier, we had the meatball for a glideslope. Our scan was, meatball, centerline, angle of attack. No flare. Touchdown with an approximate descent rate of 700 fpm.

Of course, with a pitching and rolling deck, you may never see the meatball. Happened to me one night. Two bolters and a trap; never saw the ball. The LSO talked me in.

Paul Meinhardt – Via email

Good point! As we envision it, one of the “features” of a black-hole approach is the lack of a PAPI, VASI or other approach path visual aid.


In your quite good description of carrier-style landings when altitude references are few and far between, you mention it was named that by someone who probably had never landed on a carrier. While that may be, it was taught to me by an instructor who flew Grumman F6F Hellcats off the deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown during WWII.

In addition, once I had learned how to execute it correctly, he told me, “Using that technique, you will never make a bad landing. Of course, you’ll never make a good one either.”

But I guess, when dropping into a black hole, keeping all the big pieces attached is good enough.

Don Hinds – Alpharetta, Ga.

Thanks! We’re reliably informed that, in the U.S. Navy, a good landing is defined as one you can walk away from rather than merely being able to use the airplane again.


Good article by Brian Sagi (“Automation Misbehavior,” February 2023). When I got my Boeing 757/767 type rating, the examiner told me at the start that he was interested in my knowledge and use of the automation, as he knew I knew how to fly. The airline I worked for also had several Lockheed L-1011s equipped with FMS, autoland and auto throttles. Quite impressive for a plane designed in the late 1960s and introduced in the 1970s.

I recall one of the L-1011s was climbing in vertical speed mode at the commanded rate of 1500 fpm with auto throttles set to climb power. The aircraft climbed but sacrificed airspeed for vertical speed and got to FL230 well below 200 knots indicated, which resulted in an extreme nose-high attitude and subsequent descent with violent shaking of the elevators and the plane approaching a stall. The stall warning didn’t work at altitude. The captain selected a descent in vertical speed mode but never disconnected the autopilot or auto throttles, and the plane essentially flew itself out of the condition at a lower altitude (thicker air).

The captain returned to land at the departure airport and complained of a flight-control malfunction, which was proven to be false. The captain was demoted for this. The FAA responded by requiring all L-1011 pilots to return to the simulator to experience the escape maneuver, which involved turning off the autopilot and auto throttles and flying the plane.

Autopilots have limits and one important one is that is in heavy/extreme turbulence, the autopilot may disconnect with little warning. In addition, there are times when the autopilot must be disconnected, such as when maneuvering to avoid a midair collision.

Some more info: Company policy was that engine-out approaches were to be hand-flown from the final approach fix or glide path interception as no engine-out go-arounds on autopilot were allowed, presumably because the autopilot could not safely control the aircraft on a go-around. Also, auto throttles were not to be used when hand-flying an approach to landing at any time.

Mike Berry – Via email


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