Landing Field

Retired Carriers Aren’t The Solution For The Navy’s Search

Every week or so, with almost clockwork regularity, a light bulb will go on for someone following the Navy’s search for a new practice landing field within reach of Oceana Naval Air Station. That results in a letter to the editor sharing the idea that since the Navy needs a practice area, and since the five potential sites in rural southeastern Virginia and North Carolina all have their opponents, and since the Navy has mothballed aircraft carriers on its hands, why not use one of these carriers off the coast for pilot training? Problem solved.

Would it were so easy. The neatness of the solution has appeal, but it’s one the Navy has considered –– and rejected for good reason. No, it’s not the economics of putting a fully manned carrier to sea, though that case can be made. A sufficient answer, quite simply, is that pilots in training need a greater margin of error for their practice landings than a carrier at sea can supply. It would be something like putting a beginning automobile driver on Interstate 95 and telling them to negotiate the Beltway around Washington, D.C., during rush hour.

As Adm. David O. Anderson, vice commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, explained in these pages back in June: “Whether for the new pilot first learning or the senior pilot returning to carrier operations, a safety margin is required that wouldn’t be possible on an offshore platform or ship. The very demanding task of landing an aircraft on the deck of a carrier must be practiced with an adequate margin for safety before attempting the task at sea. … Those well-meaning individuals who suggest we don’t truly need this facility don’t understand the challenges of landing on an aircraft carrier.”

There’s no reason to doubt that pilot safety and proficiency are key components (along with the desire to keep Oceana operational) of the Navy’s search for a new practice field. And, likewise, when the brass say that a carrier can’t fill in for a land-based field, there’s no reason to doubt their sincerity.

So, while plenty of arguments can be made for alternative locations, the “carrier-off-the-coast” scenario shouldn’t be among them.

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