NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Imagine landing a fighter jet at 150 miles per hour on a small runway bobbing in the middle of the ocean – with only one engine. Thanks to the Navy’s latest version of the Precision Landing Mode (PLM), landing in this extremely challenging scenario is now much safer and easier. 

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Airman Recruit David Caruso, left, and Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Airman Apprentice Darion Thornton, bow safety’s from USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) air department observe an F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 launch off Ford’s flight deck. VFA-106 is using precision landing mode for the first time for carrier qualifications (CQ). Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting CQ. Credit: Chief Mass Communication Specialist RJ Stratchko / U.S. Navy

Latest PLM upgrade allows pilots to land safely in failure conditions

PLM – a capability managed by the F/A-18 & EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265) – brings a revolutionary improvement to aircraft carrier landings. This new flight control technology drastically reduces the number of inputs a pilot must make on the final approach to the carrier. With its optimized control laws and tailored displays, PLM eases the pilot workload and makes landing much safer and simpler. Additionally, it improves overall recovery time, reduces tanker requirements, and streamlines training requirements.

Delivered to the fleet last October, the latest upgrade of PLM allows pilots to use the technology even under failure conditions. This was not possible with the earlier version released in 2016. FA-18E/F and EA-18G Military Class Desk Cmdr. Luke Davis describes how the newest iteration could be helpful in an emergency like an engine fire.

“During a single-engine approach, PLM helps to provide the pilot with a platform that feels very similar to a dual-engine approach, maximizing climb performance and helping the jet stay in balanced flight,” said Davis. “PLM provides the pilot with a reliable, stable platform to safely recover at the ship or airfield.”

Aside from its enhancements to aircraft landings, PLM has also changed the way the fleet trains. New pilots for the F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler now train with PLM from day one. Additionally, air wings take this capability on carrier qualification deployments, reducing training requirements by up to 50%. PLM enables aircrew to maximize flight time to train for a diverse and ever-expanding assortment of tactical and strategic missions.

From fiction to the flight line

So, how did this game-changing capability go from fiction to the flight line?

Formally called the Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies (MAGIC CARPET), engineers at the Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division developed the business case and concept of the new tool. They worked with the Office of Naval Research to bring this concept to life and prove its feasibility. According to F/A-18 A-D Deputy Program Manager Dave Howe, the intense collaboration between stakeholders served as the linchpin for this effort.

“PMA-265, after discussions with the fleet and Air Boss, embraced the development and received funding for the PLM project in 2016. We formed a team of flight control experts and fostered relationships across NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command] and industry enabling the success of the PLM contract,” said Howe.

“Within NAVAIR, [Air Test and Evaluation Squadron] VX-23 pilots along with flight controls engineers were the Navy’s bread and butter. We also worked hand-in-hand with our industry partners to tackle acquisition challenges. The ability to reduce training and increase readiness by decreasing aircraft landings took precedence. Together, we remained fleet-focused,” he continued.

NAVAIR began fielding the upgraded PLM to the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G fleet in the fall of 2020. Howe said hearing how Navy pilots are using the newest PLM to safely land motivates him in his daily tasks.

“The warfighters are why we come to work every day. Our teams want the ability to provide more products and solutions that assist in both training and mission execution,” said Howe. “Thinking innovatively and incorporating new technologies are part of our daily work.”

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