Airborne aircraft carrier
Airborne aircraft carriers are aircraft which can launch other aircraft. These typically are large aircraft that launch fighter-interceptor planes.

Dirigible aircraft carriers

Several plans were drawn up to outfit Zeppelin
A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had outlined in 1874 and detailed in 1893. His plans were reviewed by committee in 1894 and patented in the United States on 14 March 1899...

-type dirigible airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...

s to launch and recover fighters. These are also the typical airborne aircraft carriers found in fiction. Working prototypes include:
  • R33
  • USS Los Angeles (ZR-3)
    USS Los Angeles (ZR-3)
    The second USS Los Angeles was a rigid airship, designated ZR-3, that was built in 1923-1924 by the Zeppelin factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, where it was originally designated LZ-126...

    , used for prototype testing for the Akron and Macon.
  • USS Akron (ZRS-4)
    USS Akron (ZRS-4)
    USS Akron was a helium-filled rigid airship of the United States Navy that was lost in a weather-related accident off the New Jersey coast early on April 4, 1933, killing 73 of the 76 crew and passengers on board...

  • USS Macon (ZRS-5)
    USS Macon (ZRS-5)
    USS Macon was a rigid airship built and operated by the United States Navy for scouting. She served as a "flying aircraft carrier", launching Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk biplane fighters. In service for less than two years, in 1935 Macon was damaged in a storm and lost off California's Big Sur coast,...

These dirigible aircraft carriers all utilized an internal hangar bay using a "trapeze" to hold the aircraft. However during the 1940s many alternate plans were drawn that were not realized. A popular proposal was a rigid runway situated on the top of the dirigible for both take off and landings of planes, and an elevator to move the aircraft into the hangar located inside the main assembly. This would allow a relatively innocuous vehicle to field a large amount of aircraft. These plans were abandoned due to weight/lift ratio of the dirigible and the lost internal gas space (thus reducing the lift) due to the installation of a large hangar. A trapeze arrangement was deployed more practicably on boats using the Brodie landing system
Brodie landing system
The Brodie landing system was a method of landing light aeroplane devised by James H Brodie, a Captain of the United States Air Force during World War II. The method of landing involved catching a hook attached to the plane with a sling which itself was attached to a cable...

 later in WWII.

Jet-Carrying Bombers

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 the Japanese navy developed the rocket-powered Kamikaze aircraft Ohka
The Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka was a purpose-built, rocket powered human-guided anti-shipping kamikaze attack plane employed by Japan towards the end of World War II...

 and due to the short range of the rocket, it was launched by a Mitsubishi G4M
Mitsubishi G4M
The Mitsubishi G4M 一式陸上攻撃機, 一式陸攻 Isshiki rikujō kōgeki ki, Isshikirikkō was the main twin-engine, land-based bomber used by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in World War II. The Allies gave the G4M the reporting name Betty...

 bomber when close to a target ship.

Nazi-Germany had also planned a jet-carrying bomber, called the Daimler-Benz Project C.

Bomber aircraft carriers

During the early days of the jet age fighter aircraft could not fly long distances and still match point defence fighters or interceptors in dogfighting. The solution was long range bombers that would carry or tow their escort fighters. This is similar in concept to cruisers that carried escort fighters, or the merchant aircraft carrier
Merchant aircraft carrier
Merchant aircraft carriers were bulk cargo ships with minimal aircraft handling facilities, used during World War II by Britain and the Netherlands as an interim measure to supplement British and United States-built escort carriers in providing an anti-submarine function for convoys...


Several bombers have been used by NASA as launch platforms for experimental aircraft.
  • FICON project
    FICON project
    The FICON program was conducted by the United States Air Force in the 1950s to test the feasibility of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker bomber carrying an Republic RF-84K Thunderflash parasite fighter in its bomb bay. Earlier wingtip coupling experiments including Tip Tow which were attempts at carrying...

  • B-36 Peacemaker
  • B-29 Superfortress
    B-29 Superfortress
    The B-29 Superfortress is a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber designed by Boeing that was flown primarily by the United States Air Forces in late-World War II and through the Korean War. The B-29 was one of the largest aircraft to see service during World War II...

  • Zveno project
    Zveno project
    Zveno was a parasite aircraft concept developed in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. It consisted of a Tupolev TB-1 or a Tupolev TB-3 heavy bomber acting as a mothership for between two and five fighters...

    • Tupolev TB-1
      Tupolev TB-1
      -See also:-References:* Duffy, Paul and Andrei Kandalov. Tupolev: The Man and His Aircraft. Shrewsbury, UK:Airlife Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1 85310 728 X....

    • Tupolev TB-3
      Tupolev TB-3
      The Tupolev TB-3 was a heavy bomber aircraft which was deployed by the Soviet Air Force in the 1930s and during World War II. It was the world's first cantilever wing four-engine heavy bomber. Despite obsolescence and being officially withdrawn from service in 1939, TB-3 performed bomber and...

Transport aircraft carriers

A few specific aircraft have been built or modified to transport other aircraft; the most famous of these, a pair of modified Boeing 747
Boeing 747
The Boeing 747 is a wide-body commercial airliner and cargo transport, often referred to by its original nickname, Jumbo Jet, or Queen of the Skies. It is among the world's most recognizable aircraft, and was the first wide-body ever produced...

s known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft are two extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners that NASA uses to transport Space Shuttle orbiters...

 (SCA) belonging to the United State's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

), and are now used only to transport the US Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle was a manned orbital rocket and spacecraft system operated by NASA on 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The system combined rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons...

Space Shuttle Orbiter
The Space Shuttle orbiter was the orbital spacecraft of the Space Shuttle program operated by NASA, the space agency of the United States. The orbiter was a reusable winged "space-plane", a mixture of rockets, spacecraft, and aircraft...

 vehicle, though one was used by the Space Shuttle Enterprise
Space Shuttle Enterprise
The Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first Space Shuttle orbiter. It was built for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform test flights in the atmosphere. It was constructed without engines or a functional heat shield, and was therefore not capable of spaceflight...

 to actually launch the orbiter for atmospheric approach and landing tests. The Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 created a similar vehicle (the Antonov An-225
Antonov An-225
The Antonov An-225 Mriya is a strategic airlift cargo aircraft, designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the 1980s. It is the world's heaviest aircraft. The design, built in order to transport the Buran orbiter, was an enlargement of the successful An-124 Ruslan...

) to support the Buran spacecraft.

More recently, White Knight has been used to launch the Space Ship One privately owned space craft, and is slated to be used for a follow on design.
  • Short Mayo Composite
    Short Mayo Composite
    The Short Mayo Composite was a piggy-back long-range seaplane/flying boat combination produced by Short Brothers to provide a reliable long-range air transport service to the United States and the far reaches of the British Empire and the Commonwealth....

  • Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
    Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
    The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft are two extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners that NASA uses to transport Space Shuttle orbiters...

     (SCA) - launched flight testing of Enterprise
  • White Knight - launched SpaceShipOne
  • White Knight Two
    Scaled Composites White Knight Two
    The Scaled Composites Model 348 White Knight Two is a jet-powered cargo aircraft which will be used to launch the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. It is being developed by Scaled Composites as the first stage of Tier 1b, a two-stage to suborbital-space manned launch system...

     - designed to launch SpaceShipTwo
  • White Knight Three - anticipated to launch SpaceShipThree

See also

  • Zveno project
    Zveno project
    Zveno was a parasite aircraft concept developed in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. It consisted of a Tupolev TB-1 or a Tupolev TB-3 heavy bomber acting as a mothership for between two and five fighters...

  • Submarine aircraft carrier
    Submarine aircraft carrier
    Submarine aircraft carriers are submarines equipped with fixed wing aircraft for observation or attack missions. These submarines saw their most extensive use during World War II, although their operational significance remained rather small...

  • Fictional airborne aircraft carriers
  • Parasite aircraft
    Parasite aircraft
    A parasite aircraft is a component of a composite aircraft which is carried, and air launched by, a mother ship aircraft.The first use for parasite aircraft was in 1916, when the British used a Bristol Scout, flying from a Felixstowe Porte Baby, a giant flying boat of its time. This eventually...

  • Mother ship
    Mother ship
    A mother ship is a vessel or aircraft that carries a smaller vessel or aircraft that operates independently from it. Examples include bombers converted to carry experimental aircraft to altitudes where they can conduct their research , or ships that carry small submarines to an area of ocean to be...

  • Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
    Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
    The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft are two extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners that NASA uses to transport Space Shuttle orbiters...

  • Composite aircraft
    Composite aircraft
    A composite aircraft is made up of multiple component craft. It takes off and flies initially as a single aircraft, with the components able to separate in flight and continue as independent aircraft.-Design principles:...

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