Specialty Press' Wave Off


A History of LSOs and Ship-Goard Landings


Robert 'Boom' Powell  (CDR USN, Ret)


Specialty Press


$39.95 from Specialty Press


Scott Van Aken

Notes: ISBN 978-1-58007-235-9, 192 pages, hundreds of images, hardbound , 10.25 x 10.25 inches

When men started operating non-water capable aircraft, the feat was pretty much up to the pilot to get the plane off the deck and back on. In the very early days, it was the Royal Navy that took the lead in this, operating landplanes from ships in the later months of WWI. Those intrepid airmen often had to ditch as the ships did not have a way to recover the planes intact. This was because there was a 'storage' deck in the back of the boat, a narrow taxi strip on either side of the superstructure and a take off deck to the front.

Finally, it was realized that a long, straight deck was the way to do things. After all, in many skills, one learns by doing. Once that was figured out, even then, landing a plane was relatively easy. With a good wind over the deck, these early planes landed at such a slow speed, that men on the deck could grab the wings to bring it to a stop (no brakes).

One thing led to another and it was decided that a built in method of stopping planes was needed. First they tried wires fore and aft that were caught by hooks on the landing gear. Not the best idea. Then they tried transverse wires on the deck with a long hook on the back of the plane. A much better one and one that has lasted until modern day.

The US was a bit late in picking up on all this, but eventually built the USS Langley, which was used to try out all sorts of ideas. One that seemed to be worth while, was someone to help guide the pilot in for a landing. This worked quite well and reduced landing accidents. These men were called Landing Signal Officers (LSOs). They used a set of colored paddles to help guide the pilot. The set of signals is quite simple and covers most situations. The British went many years before adapting their equivalent of the LSO, and though their signals were pretty much the same, the ones for 'too high' and 'too low' are opposite what everyone else was using. Typical.

While the task of the LSO stayed the same over the decades, the equipment did not. There was a need for the LSO to have his own platform off the side of the ship, a way to help block the wind, and a way to escape that did not involve swimming. Lighted suit and paddles for night operations, the use of a light system to help pilots in landing along with an angled carrier deck soon negated the need for the paddles, but the LSO continues as his or her guidance is quite important for landing pilots.

The author of this book was himself an LSO and shares much of his insight and stories. What you have here is basically a history of carrier aviation. It covers the improvements to the ships and systems, the way battles have been fought and includes a lot of very cool stories, which to me, really helps to liven up a book. It is a book that fans of Naval Aviation simply have to have on their shelves. An enjoyable read and one I know you will like.

March 2017

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