How to Launch from a Catapult on an Aircraft Carrier

Before World War II, naval combat was all about bringing guns to bear on the opposing vessel in close combat. The concept of naval combat being an exchange of surface gunfire was completely overturned by the development of the aircraft carrier between World War I and World War II. The aircraft carriers kept their distance from enemy vessels and sent aircraft out to find and sink the enemy. It became common for opposing naval ships to never see each other in the course of a battle. In World War II the aircraft involved were relatively slow propeller driven machines that had wings generating much lift. Such aircraft could take off from an aircraft carrier unassisted, as they would from a ground air strip. After World War 2, the jet aircraft quickly supplanted propeller driven aircraft. Jet aircraft rely on their speed to generate sufficient air flow across the wings to lift off. A simple rolling take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier was not possible for these jets. Aircraft carriers equipped themselves with catapults that would sling shot the jets up to a high speed in a very short length of aircraft carrier deck. The jets accelerated by the catapult had sufficient air flow over their wings to continue flying, after they were virtually thrown off of the front of the aircraft carrier deck. Use these tips to learn how to launch from a catapult on an aircraft carrier.


  1. 1
    Turn the aircraft carrier into the wind. This adds the wind speed to the speed of the aircraft carrier in creating a lifting wind for the jet before the catapult is even activated. The aircraft carrier should be moving at maximum speed to enhance this effect.
  2. 2
    Position and secure the aircraft. The flight deck crew should steer the aircraft to the rear of the catapult. The flight deck crew should attach the tow bar on the nose gear of the aircraft to a slot in the shuttle. The shuttle is a large shoe on the deck that rides in a slot as the powering piston of the catapult drives it forward. For safety reasons, the flight deck crew should place the hold back bar on the aircraft between the shuttle and the back of the nose wheel of the aircraft.
  3. 3
    Raise the jet blast deflectors. The jet blast deflectors (JBD) are plates that swivel up from the deck to a vertical position behind the aircraft. The JBD protect crew and other aircraft from the powerful jet exhaust of the aircraft being launched. The JBD are raised by the flight deck crew.
  4. 4
    Check for proper set up. The flight deck crew should make a final check to confirm that the tow bar, the hold back bar and the JBD are all properly positioned. The pilot of the aircraft should make final flight checks on the aircraft at this time.
  5. 5
    Ready the catapult. The catapult officer (also known as the shooter) of the flight deck crew should take station in an enclosed control room near the aircraft, which is called the catapult control pod. From the catapult control pod, the catapult officer should open valves to charge the pneumatic drive cylinders of the catapult.
  6. 6
    Prepare to launch. The catapult officer must monitor the pressure build up in the catapult until the pressure reaches the value needed for the type of aircraft to be launched, as listed in the catapult operating procedures. When the proper pressure is attained, a member of the flight deck crew raises a hand and makes fast circles in the air. On seeing this signal, the pilot of the aircraft applies full power to the aircraft engines.
  7. 7
    Launch. The catapult is activated by the catapult operator. The catapult drives the shuttle forward at high speed. The forward movement of the shuttle causes the hold back bar to release. The aircraft is accelerated forward. When the aircraft reaches the end of the catapult, the design of the shuttle and the tow bar causes the tow bar to automatically release.

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Categories: Aviation