Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery
The various systems and procedures involved in Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) were the keys, following the Second World War, to operating large, high-performance aircraft from carriers. During the war, propeller-driven aircraft essentially made a short takeoff relying only on their own engine power. They did use arresting wires to stop the aircraft on landing, but the method had many limitations.
Mission requirements, such as carrying airborne radar or heavy nuclear weapons, required more total power. While early jet engines offered more speed and power than propeller engines, the jets of the time also were slow to accelerate for takeoff, or to abort a potentially catastrophic landing.
Several developments had to come together to make the modern military aircraft carrier. They had the greatest impact on the design of the ship itself, but the aircraft were affected. Aircraft carriers further evolved, a process that has not stopped, when they could operate even bigger and more powerful aircraft.
The major systems, many originated in Britain and refined by the United States, were:
- Highly energetic catapults, first hydraulic, then steam, and now possibly linear electromagnetic motor
- Optical and electronic landing direction systems to replace human-to-human methods
- Adjustable arresting systems
- Angled decks that greatly improved the ability to safely abort a missed landing
- Survivability improvements for the carriers
- Aircraft mechanically capable of taking the stresses of catapult takeoff and arrested landing
There also was an immense amount of doctrinal development and crew training, including dividing the work on the flight deck, often considered one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world, into tasks that could be distributed to motivated but young sailors.
By their very nature, carriers are filled with fuel and explosives. Having high-speed aircraft, themselves filled with fuel and explosive, moving across them could seem a recipe for disaster. The kamikaze attacks at the end of the Second World War was an early warning of the increased lethality of anti-shipping missiles, and the introduction of nuclear submarines, as fast as the carrier, did not add comfort.
Even without enemy action, the flight deck environment was hazardous, as demonstrated by spectacular fires on the USS Forrestal (CV-59) and USS Oriskany (CV-34). Enemy action was demonstrated to be less of a threat than Hazard from Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance.