For those who haven’t had the opportunity to see carrier operations up close, it might seem like an aircraft carrier is nothing but a floating airstrip that ought to be able to support any sort of aircraft. After all, it’s four and a half acres of sovereign American territory. We should be able to land whatever we want on it, right?
The truth is, carrier flight operations are incredibly dangerous and complex. Even with aircraft purpose-built for carrier service and the largest, most advanced carriers on the planet, naval aviators won’t be shy about telling you just how difficult it can be to take off and land from a bobbing bit of steel amidst a seemingly endless expanse of ocean.
Of course, that’s not to say that aircraft that aren’t designed for carrier duty can’t make the leap to service aboard America’s iron islands. Back in 1963, the United States wanted to see if it would be practical to mount C-130 operations from the Navy’s carriers, in part to serve as a rapid means of resupplying carriers during times of war. This “Super Carrier Onboard Delivery” or “Super COD” program ultimately settled on the C-130 thanks to its payload capacity, reliability, and range.
The C-130 wasn’t built to utilize the carrier’s arresting gear or steam catapults that allow other aircraft to land and take off. Instead, it had to rely on only what it brought to the table, with only slight modifications to the front landing gear and brake system made by Lockheed before testing started. Although the program didn’t ultimately result in C-130s operating off of American carriers, it did prove it was possible. In testing, the C-130s completed 29 touch-and-go landings and an additional 21 unarrested full-stop landings aboard carriers.
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