The Perils and High Cost of ‘Routine’ Carrier Flight Operations - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Perils and High Cost of ‘Routine’ Carrier Flight Operations

Navy officials recently announced that the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter that crashed “during routine flight operations” on the deck of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and injured seven sailors was lost over the edge of the flight deck.

The advanced 5th generation F-35C fighters cost $78 million each. With ten of the aircraft embarked on the Vinson in the VFA-147 squadron known as the Argonauts that component of the 75-plane air wing totals a $780 million investment.

Moreover, in addition to the capital cost per plane, the aircraft are pricey to keep flying. Every hour of flying time costs the taxpayers $38,000.

The official announcement of what was characterized as a “mishap” on the carrier Vinson added that the Navy is making recovery operation arrangements for the missing aircraft. Of course, locating and recovering a plane from the depths of the South China Sea is a steep challenge, but when you are dealing with a $78 million “mishap,” you need to go the extra mile to protect the taxpayers’ “investment.”

Thankfully, the pilot ejected from the F-35 and was recovered from the water by helicopter. The pilot and two sailors were evacuated to a medical treatment facility in Manila, Philippines, and four other sailors were treated by on-board medical personnel and are expected to make a full recovery.

All military aircraft operations are costly and very dangerous even in peace time. In fact, a congressional commission reports that, in the five-year period from 2013 to 2018, military aviation accidents killed 224 pilots or aircrew, destroyed 186 aircraft, and cost more than $11.6 billion.

Indeed, many aviators believe those numbers will keep rising. In dozens of interviews conducted by the Commission, military pilots said they are constantly haunted by the possibility of being the next aircraft accident.

Contrary to the Navy’s characterization of the incident on the Vinson, aircraft carrier operations are hardly “routine,” but rather are uniquely precarious. Night landings on a carrier in rough seas and severe weather conditions is akin to dancing on a tightrope without a net.

Of course, an aircraft carrier flight deck is really huge (4.5 acres), but looks like a postage stamp from the air. By contrast, the land-based runway for F-18 operations “officially requires” a tarmac of 6,000 to 7,000 feet. For landing on a carrier, the F-18 can stop within 200 feet with the help of the aircraft’s hook and the ship’s arresting gear.

Unlike a land-based runway, the aircraft carrier flight deck is a moving target. First, the ship is moving into the wind at a speed to generate 32 knots of wind down the angle deck. If winds are light, the ship may be moving through the water at speeds of up to 30 knots.

In addition to going forward at speeds that would get you a ticket in a residential community, the carrier moves in several other ways… six to be exact. A ship can move front to back (surge), side to side (sway), and up and down (heave). The ship can also rotate along each axis — pitch, roll, and yaw respectively.

Of course, heavy seas will exacerbate those movements to the point of seasickness. Just imagine attempting to land on the top of a five-story building in an earthquake. That’s why it is said that being a naval aviator takes “the right stuff.”.

So, here’s a salute to all those brave military pilots, and special wish to those naval aviators for “fair winds, following seas,” and happy arrested landings.

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