My First Carrier Landing/Trap

Aboard the Navy's T-45, Goshawk trainer


By Michael C. Biemiller, US Navy


All Navy pilots go to the "boat" solo. Their instructor and confidant flies on board ahead of them and becomes the LSO or Landing Signal Officer to talk them in. This is one of the last steps towards earning the coveted Navy Wings of Gold. This account came in the form of an E-mail after Carl Biemiller's grandson, my son, finished his first ever aircraft carrier qualifications.

The Narrative

"Hello everybody-

Mike B. here. I'm back in lovely Kingsville, TX after a week in even more lovely Beaufort, SC. Note the sarcastic overtones. Anyway, I can now say that I am officially a tail-hooker. However, due to a certain unfortunate incident that happened in Las Vegas in 1990, I'd prefer the title, "one who has landed aboard an aircraft carrier." Well, what can I say? That was the most incredible experiences of my salty 24 year old life.

Last Wednesday, was my first trip out to the USS Eisenhower, CVN-69. Myself and two other jets took off from Beaufort and headed to "the boat," which was cruising about 100 miles off the coast of Hilton Head. Let's just say that was the quickest 100 miles I've ever flown. Before I knew it, we were at Marshall overhead the ship. Marshall is a Navy term for a holding pattern. The ship held us for 25 minutes before giving us the signal Charlie, which is clearance to come aboard. The entire time we were holding my stomach was working itself into a nice, tight, little fist. I was thinking that maybe that second bowl of Apple Jacks wasn't such a good idea. My mouth was also becoming as dry as the Sahara. The whole time we were holding, I just kept looking down at this little boat in the middle of this huge ocean saying, "you have got to be kidding me." What I was actually saying was a little more colorful and included many of my favorite four letter words and phrases repeated in a continuous loop, such as HOLY @#$%, #?$& THIS, #?$& ME, etc.

We finally were cleared into the break at 800 feet over the water. The break is the way you enter the carrier landing pattern. I lowered my gear and came in for my first landing. The first two passes you make during Carrier Qualification are hook-up touch and go's. You just fly a normal approach and become airborne again when you touch the deck. As I got in close to the ship I was amazed at the size of this thing. You can fit three football fields end to end on the deck of the ship. It's about five acres of space or something like that. Whatever the numbers are; it is just plain big.

My first pass with the hook down was the biggest adrenaline rush I've ever had. It felt like my entire body was vibrating. I probably had enough adrenaline running through my system to allow everyone reading this to go outside and lift your car over your head and spin it on your little finger. It was intense. I just concentrated on "flying the ball" just like I've always done on the field.

Before I knew what hit me, I had come to a complete stop in 1.2 seconds.

It felt like hitting a brick wall at 125 miles per hour. It was 1000 times more violent than I ever expected. You hear a bang as you hit the deck followed by a howling screech as the tail-hook grabs the arresting wire and the wire spools out. Inside the cockpit, every part of your body is thrown against the straps. Your legs and arms feel like they're just going to separate from your body.

When you hit the deck you always jam the throttle to full power so if you miss the wires, you can fly off again. Well, I jammed the throttle forward and held it there while I tried to recage my head. Needless to say, I was a little bewildered. The air boss in the ship's tower came over the radio and said, "OK son, we got ya'. You can throttle back now, you're not going to make the ship go any faster."

I throttled back, raised the hook, and taxied over to the catapult. This ride wasn't over yet. The taxi directors, which are enlisted guys who are mostly younger than I am, control every movement you make aboard the ship. I must say, they are extremely professional and know their jobs well. They have to be good because your life is in their hands.

The taxi director signaled me over to the Cat area behind the JBD. The JBD is the jet blast deflector. It is a big metal ramp that pops out of the deck at about a 60 degree angle. It's purpose is to deflect the jet blast from your aircraft so that you don't blow everyone and everything off the deck of the ship. It is quite noisy in this area when a jet is being launched in front of you and you are sitting two feet behind the JBD.

As soon as the guy in front of you is launched off, the JBD lowers, and the director taxis you over the JBD to the catapult. A guy runs up to your jet with a little board that has your aircraft weight written on it. You give him a thumbs up if the weight of your aircraft and fuel match what he has. This allows the proper steam charge to be delivered to the catapult piston. The "shooters" or catapult operators hook the launch bar from your nose wheel to the shuttle of the catapult as the JBE is raised behind you. The shooter hooks a holdback rod to the back of your nose wheel, which allows you to go to full power without moving anywhere. He then tells you to go to full power and check to make sure your controls are good. All signals are given by hand. If everything looks good, you give the cat officer a salute. He salutes you back, crouches down, touches the deck and points down the bow of the ship.

A sailor on the left side of the ship, whose head is just above the deck, waits for that signal from the shooter. He puts his hands up, looks forward, looks aft, looks forward again, and turns to look at you. At the same time, his right hand swings down and hits the launch button. Instantly, a charge of steam fills behind the cat piston. As soon as enough pressure builds behind the piston, the holdback fitting behind your nose wheel gives way and you are hurled down the deck..

It feels like your eyes are being pushed into the back of your head, and all the skin on your face is being pulled back. It is the coolest rush of all. You have enough time to let out a prolonged word before you're over water in flight. One hundred thirty knots in two seconds. AWESOME!!!

I repeated that sequence for a total of six times that day and then spent the night on the ship. I didn't sleep at all because of all the machinery noises, and the fact that my room was located directly under the flight deck behind the catapult, didn't help either.

I had finally gotten to sleep when all of a sudden I heard a loud hiss, followed by a huge bang. That's the sound of the first catapult shot of the day. I was jolted upright, and due to the fact that I was sleeping on the top rack, I slammed my head into a water pipe that was running across the overhead. I rubbed my brain's housing unit. 0530, Thursday was here. I ate breakfast, got in the jet, did four more landings and four more cat shots and went home.

That's my story. We went out that night and had a few tasty beverages and some good cigars provided by our LSOs (Landing Signal Officers) as our welcome to the club gifts. Somehow, we all managed to stumble back to the Bachelor Officer Quarters at an ungodly hour for some well deserved rest. Saturday, myself and four other guys took some planes to New Orleans for a "post-celebration" celebration. You can never have too many celebrations. Sunday we returned to Kingsville, TX..

It turns out that I was the #1 pilot at the ship and had the best grades out of all the guys that were out there, based on boarding rate and the grades for all of my passes. Each pass at the ship is graded on a 4.0 scale. As a result, I was awarded the honor of "Top Hook" (little pat on the back). It was an unbelievable experience, and I can't wait to do it again.

Mike B.

Taken several years later, the photo above is Navy Lt. Mike Biemiller, now a seasoned pilot and
landing signal officer for Sea Control Squadron (VS)-38, recording a landing evaluation on his Palm.
Students turn into mentors.

The T-45's General Characteristics

Primary Function: Training platform for Navy/Marine Corps pilots.
Contractor: Boeing Company
Unit Cost: $17.2 million
Propulsion: Rolls Royce F405-RR-401 turbofan engine with 5,527 pounds (2,512 kg) thrust
Wingspan: 30 feet 10 inches (9.39 meters)
Length: 39 feet 4 inches (11.98 meters)
Height: 13 feet 6 inches (4.11 meters)
Weight: Take-off maximum gross, 13,500 pounds (6,075 kg); empty 9,394 pounds (4,261 kg)
Speed: 645 miles per hour (1038 km per hour)
Ceiling: 42,500 feet
Range: 700 nautical miles (805 statute miles, 1288 km)
Armament: None.
Crew: Two (instructor pilot, student pilot)
Date Deployed:First flight, April 1988; Operational, 1991

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