MAGIC CARPET is a software modification to the airplane’s digital flight control system that allows naval aviators to make fewer corrections in an effort to land on the carrier.

Say it isn’t so! Could a night trap really not be as scary in the future? If the new software that NAVAIR has been testing lives up to its promise, flying the ball might become pretty easy. And it may be the solution to keeping Naval Aviators from fearing absolutely every night pass at the carrier.

It’s the world’s most trumped up acronym and it’s called the Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies=MAGIC CARPET.

Whew! But we will take it if landing on floating runways becomes simpler.

MAGIC CARPET is a software modification to the airplane’s (F-18E/F/G)  autopilot and digital flight control system. The new software takes the three dimensions of the flight path (roll, yaw, pitch) and allows the pilot to provide a single corrective input. The software sets the plane to fly a constant three degree glideslope, regardless of wind or other outside factors–including the dreaded “burble“.

No longer are pilots making multiple corrections down the chute. This includes correcting back when an initial correction was too much. MAGIC CARPET adjusts the throttle, flaps, ailerons, and stabilizers to keep the flight path and angle of attack of the aircraft constant and direct to the landing area.

Capt. David Kindley, F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Manager in the Program Executive Office for Tactical Aircraft said the average pilot makes 200 to 300 corrections in the final 18 seconds before landing. With MAGIC CARPET, test data showed the first-timers making about 20 corrections while flying on the ball. That figure dropped below 10 once the pilots got used to the system.

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“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Kindley said. If a pilot is coming in high, “you just push the stick forward and then let go, and it stops itself on glideslope. Same thing when I’m below glideslope, you just pull the stick back and then let go. So instead of making multiple corrections with the throttle and stick to affect glideslope, I’ve made one and then let go.”

Additionally, MAGIC CARPET calculates the aircraft carrier’s movement through the water. The added difficulty of landing on a carrier was that the runway was always moving. With MAGIC CARPET, the system can determine where the landing area will be–solving one of the many challenges with the last 18 seconds of carrier aviation.

The new software takes away the velocity vector and changes the symbol to a small landing area.

“All you do is you put the landing area on the landing area, and then you let go. It’s really that simple” remarked Kindley.

So easy, even a "bubblehead" can do it. Former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert completes a successful carrier trap using the MAGIC CARPET software. (Photo: NAVAIR)
So easy, even a “bubblehead” can do it. Former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert completes a successful carrier trap using the MAGIC CARPET software. (Photo: NAVAIR)

The system also reduces bolters–a term used to describe when the tailhook of the aircraft misses the arresting wires. With MAGIC CARPET testing, 66 percent of the landings were plus or minus 18 feet from the target. Additionally, out of 598 passes during software testing there was only 1 bolter.

That is a pretty significant statistic. Not just because it is such a small percentage, but because of how bolters affect the flow of flight traffic around the ship.

A bolter requires air traffic controllers to build space among other aircraft for another attempt at landing. It extends the amount of time the aircraft carrier is recovering aircraft–a vulnerable time for the floating behemoth. It also forces tanker aircraft to be in position if the boltered aircraft is in need of airborne refueling.

Having airplanes land the first time every time takes away a lot of those headaches.

But if you are sitting in marshal right now, don’t get your hopes up too soon. NAVAIR said the operational software won’t be delivered to the fleet until 2019.

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Until then: Meatball, Lineup, Angle of Attack.

You can read Megan Eckstein’s full article here.

Top Photo Credit: “Salty Dog 100,” an F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., lands on USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) Apr. 20, 2015. The landing was part of the first sea trials for MAGIC CARPET, new flight control software and display symbology for F/A-18 aircraft designed to make carrier landings less demanding for Navy pilots. Courtesy NAVAIR.