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Carrier landings have been described as “controlled crashes.”

Cmdr. David Landess has done it more than 1,000 times.

Landess, who commands the USS John F. Kennedy-based Fighter Squadron 103, joins only about 300 other pilots in the Navy’s history to reach this milestone. Another 100 or so naval flight officers, who operate the aircraft’s electronics, have also reached this accomplishment.

“This achievement is certainly a source of pride for me,” Landess wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. The Kennedy was recently in the Mediterranean Sea on its way to the Persian Gulf.

According to retired Capt. Bob Rasmussen, director of the National Museum of Naval Aviation, of all the pilots who have “mastered the art of flying” only “a fraction can call themselves ‘tailhookers’ — aviators who have made an arrested landing aboard a ship — a trap.”

And few of them have reached this 1,000 landings plateau in recent years.

“The great majority of people who have reached this milestone are retired …,” Rasmussen wrote in an e-mail. “It was not too many years ago that we added several names every year; now it is a rare occasion. I believe that this is the first addition we will have made since June of 2003 when two pilots joined the club.”

Landess said his accomplishment should be shared with the thousands of sailors who have worked on Navy aircraft or ships’ catapults and arresting gear throughout the years.

Carrier landings are known as traps or arrested landings in Navy parlance. Pilots use tailhooks on their aircraft to catch — or trap — one of four steel cables on the ship’s flight deck, which then slows the aircraft to a stop.

At the same time, the pilots throw their aircraft’s engines into full power so that if they don’t trap a wire, they can fly around and try again.

The landings are referred to as “controlled crashes” because the aircraft slams onto the carrier’s deck and, with the help of the tailhook, is jolted to a stop.

Landess made his first carrier landing in November 1986. He has flown his F-14 Tomcat in combat, with missions supporting operations Southern Watch and Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. He also made one of the squadron’s first flights over Iraq in the Kennedy’s current Persian Gulf deployment.


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