50 years ago, engineers tried catching commercial planes in nets

Excerpt from the October 28, 1967 issue of Science News

S-3 Viking aircraft

This S-3 Viking aircraft used the barricade arrestment system on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 1990. It was unable to land with the normal tailhook system because its landing gear was damaged. 

US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

Net to halt runaway airliners

A gigantic emergency arresting gear system, capable of stopping the largest four-engined jet aircraft without discomfort to passengers, is being developed for the French Ministry of Transportation. The system consists of a nylon net … which engages the aircraft for the full width of its wingspan. Net and airplane are brought to a slow stop by energy absorbing devices located along the sides of the runway. — Science News, September 28, 1967


Catching commercial airliners in giant nets never took off. However, aircraft carriers have deployed nets since 1931 for emergency landings. In modern versions, nets are linked to energy-absorbers below deck to help bring a plane to a safe stop. Today’s net systems are a big improvement over the original barricade: Aviation pioneer Eugene Ely first landed an airplane on a ship, the USS Pennsylvania, in 1911. His landing relied on sandbag-secured ropes across the deck plus a canvas awning between the plane and the sea. 

S-3 Viking aircraft landing with barricade arrestment system
IN THE NET With damaged landing gear, an S-3A Viking aircraft makes an emergency landing into a barricade on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 1990. US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: This story was corrected on November 6, 2017. The nets used on the aircraft carriers to arrest airplanes were not made of nylon until after nylon became available in 1935. 

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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