The Tailhook

Carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft (to differentiate from helicopters and other rotary-type aircraft) need a tailhook that grabs a steel wire spanning the deck to land on an aircraft carrier. Unlike a land-based field where there are 8,000 or 12,000 foot long runways, the landing area on an aircraft carrier is a mere 700 feet long, with the target area where the wires are is only about 150 feet long.  If you miss that landing area, the hook does not grab a wire and yo go flying again.

So, it is important – vitally important – that the tail hook of the landing aircraft contact the deck, stays in contact with the deck, and grabs one of those wires (called a “cross deck pendant,” or CDP, if you are into technical nomenclature.)

The tailhook assembly of an F-14 (and was probably the same with other jets of the era) had a dashpot hydraulic system attached to it, charged up to 800 psi designed to keep that hook in the DOWN position when the aircraft landed. Here, you can see the smoke generated by the hook dragging along the nonskid-covered HY-80/100 steel making up the deck of CV-67. Without that 800 psi of pressure keeping that tailhook down, the initial impact of the hookpoint with the deck would make the tailhook bounce or skip up and over a wire (hence the term “hook skip”), also potentially bouncing up and impacting the aircraft to where it could do some severe damage and/or the aircraft would never grab a wire. VF-14, USS JFK, late 1980s.

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