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Navy Catapult Launch Improvement 1962

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E-2A Hawkeye (top) and a F-4 Phantom in the early 1960s (Photo US Navy).

On 19 December 1962, an E-2A Hawkeye, flown by naval aviator Lieutenant Commander Lee Ramsey was catapulted from the flightdeck of the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) during the first at sea test of a nose-tow gear designed to replace the catapult bridle system and reduce the time required between aircraft launches on aircraft carriers. This gear would also make aircraft hookups to the catapult safer. Shortly after the Hawkeye, an A-6 Intruder was launched also via nose-tow gear. Another name for the nose-tow gear was launch bar and the tow link assembly is that part of the gear that would raise the nose-tow, launch bar, up after launch to allow the nose gear to cycle properly and fit into the nose wheel well.  Lots of aviators have suffered a “Tow Link” light after launch and had to deal with the problem. Those who raised their gear with a tow link light would not be able to get the nose gear to extend for landing, because it would be wedged up in the nose wheel well…not a good thing for carrier landings!

At Patriots Point you can see the evolution of naval aircraft from bridle launches to nose-tow launches by closely examining the nose gear and the underneath areas of our aircraft.  Below are images from one of our bridle launched aircraft (F-4J Phantom) and our nose-tow, launch bar, aircraft.

Bridle hook up for the Patriots Point F4J Phantom, before tow links were used.

 

Close up look at the bridle connection to the hookpoint underneath the Phantom's wing, notice the hook is facing rearward so the bridle will slide off once the jet gets to the end of the catapult track.

 

Launch bar and tow link on Patriots Point's S-3 Viking anti-submarine aircraft.

 

F-14A Tomcat launch bar on the deck ready to be engaged by the shuttle.

 

Here's how it all comes together with launch bar and trail bar to hook up a naval aircraft to a catapult.

 

Here is Patriots Point's A-6E Intruder with the launch bar in the up position.

 

Here the A-6E Intruder launch bar has been manually placed level on the deck for hook up. All first generation launch bars had to be physically placed in the down postion by flight deck personnel, a dangerous job!

 

Here is the Patriots Point F-18A Hornet's nose gear and launch bar, notice the launch bar is attached to a mechanism that allows the pilot to put the launch bar in the down (hookup) position, a much safer option for flight deck crew!

Watch our highly trained sailors hook up a F-18 Hornet to this catapult on USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which again launched the first nose-tow aircraft in 1962, forty-nine years ago today! Here you can see it all happen and wonder at our men and women who perform this duty daily!

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