NORFOLK, Va. - The Navy calls it the most dangerous thing you can do in aviation: landing on an aircraft carrier.
Add to that the darkness of night and a pitching deck at sea and more than one student aviator learning to master the skill has struggled.
Now thanks to advanced technology at use in the fleet, the task is becoming slightly easier.
This month student aviators from Strike Fighter Squadron 106, the Navy's East Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron, have been getting carrier qualified on the Ford using the Precision Landing Mode (PLM) technology.
PLM has has been in use in the fleet since 2017, but it is now being adapted by student aviators.
Captain Dan Catlin, Commanding Officer of VFA-106, says this training evolution on the Ford using PLM has been the smoothest yet, and he can tell based on what he hasn't been seeing.
"The white knuckles, the shaky knees, you see the expression on the face of someone who has just landed on an aircraft carrier at night for the first time: we didn’t see that last night. What we saw was a lot of student aviators using technology that is really making something that is supposed to be incredibly hard actually a little bit of fun," Captain Catlin said on a teleconference with News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.
The PLM technology is an aircraft capability that can be used across Nimitz-class and now Ford-class carriers.
The Navy says it improves safety and efficiency while easing pilot workload.
Captain J.J. Cummings is the outgoing Commanding Officer of the Ford. He believes PLM will allow the Ford to execute future carrier qualification periods more efficiently and keep the ship on schedule.
“Usually you have days where students would struggle with getting onboard and we’d have to sometimes bleed over a day sometimes two days over because we’re about the mission. The mission is to come out to sea and carrier qualify the next round of pilots and you do not pull in until that mission is complete," Captain Cummings said.
"[It] will allow us to get back sooner and either get back to maintenance or whatever the case may be. We will find, I believe, over time carrier qualifications at sea periods will get a little bit shorter because of how efficient PLM is for pilots."
Ford leadership says the first-in-class carrier is also progressing toward certifications.
Following this at-sea period, the ship will have two more scheduled underways before commencing shock trials this summer.
A planned shipyard maintenance period will then follow the shock trials.