Naval Air: Dirt Traps


July 15, 2010: The U.S. Marine Corps has been equipped with carrier aircraft arresting gear for use on land based airfields. This allows naval aircraft, mainly the F-18, to make arrested landings ("traps") on land. This is useful if the aircraft had problems with its brakes or landing gear, that an arrested landing would help with. The alternative is a crash landing, that does a lot of damage to the aircraft and landing strip, endangers the pilot and often destroys the aircraft and shuts down the landing strip for hours.

The arrestor gear consists of two mechanical "arresting engines" and an arresting cable from these two engines that stretches across the landing strip. Whether used on carriers or on land, the system enables a suitably equipped aircraft (with a tail hook to catch the cable and structural reinforcement to enable the aircraft to withstand the stress of being quickly halted by the arresting engines, which play out the cable slowly enough to halt the aircraft)  to make very short landings. With this system, a jet fighter can land on a 330 meter carrier deck, with space to spare. Works the same way on land. American marines recently installed a land based arresting system at an airbase in Afghanistan. It took about 1,100 man hours, over several weeks, to set up, and it worked. It takes 2-3 minutes between landings to reset the arresting engines and the cable.

These land based arrestor systems are common on U.S. Navy airfields, and the arrestor cables are usually kept beneath the airstrip, and raised by air controllers as needed. There are also overrun systems, to help stop aircraft that do not fully catch the cable, or for when a cable breaks. On land bases, these are often soft and hard materials, which may wreck the aircraft, but will prevent it from continuing on to do more damage.



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