Sailors assigned to the Visual Landing Aids (VLA) shop in Air Department’s V2 division onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) play an integral role in the complex series of events crucial to safely land aircraft.
The VLA shop has two responsibilities; safely recover aircraft and archive mishaps.
“We provide a recording of any incidents or casualties that might occur on the flight deck,” said Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class Theresa Porter, the Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System (IFLOLS) work center supervisor. “We also guide the pilot in for a safe recovery utilizing [IFLOLS].”
“IFLOLS is the group of lights that the pilot is looking at in order to land at a safe angle on the flight deck,” said Porter.
Sailors in VLA initiate IFOLS when a returning pilot is about a mile away from the ship.
IFLOLS, or just ‘the Lens,’ gives pilots a visual reference of what the ship is doing to land safely. It consists of green horizontal and red vertical fiber optic lights on both sides of the center light, or the “meatball.” Pilots consider this the most important part of the system.
“If the Lens is set wrong, it could kill somebody,” said Cmdr. Daniel Case, former air boss of Theodore Roosevelt.
VLA also operates the ships Integrated Launch and Recovery Television System (ILARTS).
“ILARTS is a high definition surveillance system with  cameras mounted strategically all over the flight deck,” said Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class Erik Bracker. “These cameras constantly monitor and record all flight operations from fixed wing recoveries to VERTREP helo ops.”
The Landing Signal Officer (LSO) watches an ILARTS video feed from a camera located aft on the centerline of the ship to make sure the aircraft is coming in correctly along the final bearing, said Porter.
“[The LSO is] talking to the pilot, watching that screen as the pilot’s coming in to make sure it’s in the center of [the] crosshair system,” said Porter.
The electronic crosshair stabilization system overlays a crosshair on the video which the LSO monitors. The LSO communicates to the pilot their position as he or she sees it on the screen, trying to keep the aircraft in the center. They tell the pilot whether they’re too high or too low, if they should adjust right or left.
If the LSO feels the pilot isn’t coming in safely they waive the pilot off and have him circle around and try again.
Landing on an aircraft carrier is often described as the toughest task for a Navy pilot. Even with technology that aids pilots in a safe recovery, Sailors remain essential to mission success.
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (IDW/AW/SW) Eric Lockwood, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Public Affairs