Could a Boeing 737 Land on an Aircraft Carrier?

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Could a Boeing 737 land on an aircraft carrier? It seems like an absolutely crazy question...

An empty Boeing 737 weighs 75,000 pounds, has a wingspan of 112 feet, typically lands at 178 miles per hour, and requires a minimum landing runway distance of 1,710 meters, about 19 football fields. Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the largest ever built, are wide enough for a 737, but only offer a maximum landing runway of 333 meters.

So, yeah, that sounds like a "no."

Colonel Chris Hadfield, a retired pilot for both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the U.S. Navy, and a former commander of the International Space Station, thinks it's possible, however. He described how landing a passenger plane on an aircraft carrier might just work to author, comic, and science enthusiast Randall Munroe for Munroe's recently published book How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems.

"What you're going to want to do is get the captain of the aircraft carrier to turn her ship into the wind. Get the ship going as fast as she can make it go, which might give you 50 or 60 mph winds.

You're going to want to make use of every inch of the flight deck. You should extend the flaps, changing your wing from being flat to being sort of curved.

You want to hit the aircraft carrier RIGHT at the very back of the deck. Then you want to chop your power to zero, bring your engines back, and raise your flaps immediately. Otherwise wind can blow you off. However, keep your hand on the throttle. You want to be able to jam your throttle up and go around again."

Hadfield's descriptive advice closely matches a remarkable scenario that played out in October 1963. U.S. Navy pilots Lt. James Flatley III and Lt. Cmdr. W.W. Stovall successfully landed a Lockheed Martin KC-130F "Hercules" airplane on the supercarrier USS Forrestal, not just once, but 21 times! This is a seriously large airplane, both heftier and wider than the 737. Even though the plane was not equipped with an arresting hook, which is used to swiftly stop aircraft, Flatley III and Stovall managed to slow the "Hercules" to a complete standstill within 267 feet. As a bonus, the duo also took off from the carrier 21 times.

Despite Flatley III and Stovall's heroics, the Navy did not deem landing such large aircraft on carriers to be practical for everyday operations.

Though the "Hercules" is heavier and wider than the Boeing 737, there is a key difference that makes it more suitable to carrier landings: it is a turboprop, not a pure jet like the 737. According to Schubach Aviation, "Jets have turbine engines encased with fan blades while turboprops have a propeller on the outside. Turboprops are able to respond and stop much more quickly because the propellers provide extra drag. Thus, the propellers help the aircraft stop when needed."

Safely landing a Boeing 737 on an aircraft carrier is possible, yet highly improbable. Don't expect real world tests anytime soon.

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