Angled Deck origins

Origins of the Angled Deck

by Digger Bourke
The sketch of the proposed US Navy flush deck super carrier in the Naval Officers Club Newsletter 59 of l December, 2004, revived old memories of the original angled deck, or “canted deck” in the USN parlance of the time.

In the late 1940s the USN considered it vital to remain in the nuclear delivery business in competition with the US Air Force. Naval architects were considering twin-runway and flush deck layouts to handle the heavier and faster jet-age aircraft. HMS Warrior was even fitted with a rubber deck in 1948 to explore the weight-saving concept of operating aircraft without undercarriages.

A brilliant solution that solved many deck landing problems was proposed and developed by two officers of the Naval Section of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE). CAPT (later RADM) D.R.F. Cambell DSO RN and Mr Lewis Boddington in late 1951 changed the whole concept of carrier design, solving the problems of handling the new aircraft and eliminating the crash barrier for routine operations. The ease of landing, compared with the old system, promised to make a great contribution to aircrew confidence and morale.

The revolutionary idea was first trialled in HMS Triumph in early 1952 with Attackers and a Meteor using a painted deck about eight degrees off centre to port. No deck machinery was altered, so only touch-and-go approaches were possible. Further trials were carried out in March 1952 in HMS Illustrious.

USS Antietam
Antietam, seen here launching an F9F Panther from the angle, probably from a touch-and-go, conducted the first ever angled deck arrested landing trials between 12 and 16 January 1953. Note the pre-SCB125 open bow and five-inch turrets still in place. CAPT S.G. Mitchell USN, the commanding officer of USS Antietam, in an SNJ Texan/Harvard, is credited with the first angled deck arrested landing.

The concept was relayed to the USN, who were quick to act. They conducted simulated angle deck landings trials aboard USS Midway, 26-29 May 1952. Between September and December 1952, they also modified the USS Antietam, an Essex class carrier just emerging from reserve. Antietam had a ‘canted’ deck of eight degrees, later 10.5 degrees. The arrestor wires were realigned at right angles to the new centreline and they locked the port deck edge elevator in the up position. No regular barriers were fitted but an emergency barrier could be rigged in about two minutes in the event of a hook problem or other emergency. The carrier completed over 500 landings between 12 and 16 January 1953, day and night, with six types of jet and prop-driven aircraft, without incident.

Canted versus Angled

The USN “canted”, “slewed” and “slanted” versus “angled” deck argument was finally resolved 24 February 1955, when USN OPNAV 9020 directed that “angled” was the preferred usage.

Seahawk Hancock
An RN Seahawk conducts trials aboard USS
Antietam in July 1953.

Generously, Antietam crossed the Atlantic to allow experience by RN Attacker, Seahawk, Sea Vampire and Wyvern aircraft in late June and early July 1953. A total of 64 touch-and-go landings and 19 arrested landings were completed to the total satisfaction of all pilots taking part. The pilots were drawn from 806 Squadron (Seahawks) in RNAS Brawdy, the Service Trials Unit (STU) in RNAS Ford, the Naval Air Fighting Development Unit (NAFDU) and the Central Fighter Establishment (CFE) at RAF West Raynham, Norfolk. LCDR Freddy Sherborne RAN was on exchange with the STU and flew an Attacker in the trials. I was serving with NAFDU and flew a Seahawk. We were most fortunate to be included in these historic trials along with senior highly-regarded RN aviators.

Working with USS Antietam was a great success and cooperation was highly satisfactory, leading to complete approval by all participating aviators.

Aircrew morale was greatly boosted by removal of the crash barrier, by the opportunity to go around again, with the introduction of a “no-cut” technique until an arrestor wire was engaged and the relatively easy new circuit and landing procedures. A quantum decrease in deck landing accidents was promised and this proved to be true. USN hospitality continued after the completion of the flying program with a cocktail party in Portsmouth Dockyard Officers Mess, followed by a visit to the ship with our wives. There were some amusing reactions in some of our colleagues at RAF West Raynham when Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDLS) were practised. Circuits were flown at 300 feet. A batsman on the runway monitored the last stages of the curved approaches, with the 100-yard straightaway offset ten degrees to port of the runway, and with no touch down. This was quite different from their standard 1000 feet high square circuits with slightly higher approach speeds.

Steam Catapult and Deck Landing Mirror

As the angled deck evolved, two other equally important British inventions appeared: the steam catapult by CMDR C.C. Mitchell OBE RNVR, and the Deck Landing Mirror by LCDR H.C.N. (Nick) Goodhart RN. Together, they give modem carriers the ability to operate without limits to aircraft design. The trials carrier HMS Perseus was the first to launch an aircraft by steam in 1952, but USS Hancock was the first operational ship with a steam catapult.

Hancock TrackerHMAS Melbourne
USS Hancock launches CMDR H.J. Jackson USN by steam in this S2F Tracker (left) on 1 June 1955. HMAS Melbourne (right) was the first operational carrier ever to commission with all three of the new jet-age systems, angled deck, steam catapult and mirror, on 28 October 1955.