Ever wonder what Navy fighter jet pilots are thinking as they approach an aircraft carrier for landing?
Well, wonder no more — here is what they’re thinking about in all its glory:
“Meatball – line-up – angle of attack.”
Meatball – the central light on the lens (pictured below) is called the meatball. Making visual contact with the meatball is necessary when coming in for a landing because the carrier LSOs (see my abbreviations tabs for more info) use the lens to communicate with incoming pilots. When the pilot makes visual contact with the meatball, they call “the ball” so that the LSOs know that the pilot can see the meatball. If the pilot cannot make visual contact with the meatball, they call “Clara” and “waive off”, meaning that they abort landing and reenter the landing que with the other jets. The meatball (“the ball”) should appear centered.
Line-up – This is when the pilot physically lines themselves up with the landing area of the ship. This is a left-to-right orientation line-up.
Angle of attack – The airplane’s wing angle with respect to the direction it is traveling. Navy pilots need to set a very precise angle of attack so that the meatball shows them accurate information and allows them to land in the correct (safe) spot in the landing area.