A tailhook, also arresting hook or arrester hook, is a device attached to the empennage
The empennage , also known as the tail or tail assembly, of most aircraft gives stability to the aircraft, in a similar way to the feathers on an arrow...

 (rear) of some military fixed wing aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

. The hook is used to achieve rapid deceleration during routine landings aboard aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

 flight deck
Flight deck
The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is the surface from which its aircraft take off and land, essentially a miniature airfield at sea. On smaller naval ships which do not have aviation as a primary mission, the landing area for helicopters and other VTOL aircraft is also referred to as the...

s at sea, or during emergency landings or aborted takeoffs at properly equipped airports.


On January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely
Eugene Burton Ely
Eugene Burton Ely was an aviation pioneer, credited with the first shipboard aircraft take off and landing.-Background:...

 landed his Curtiss
Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company
Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company was an American aircraft manufacturer that went public in 1916 with Glenn Hammond Curtiss as president. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the company was the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States...

 pusher airplane on a platform on the armored cruiser
Armored cruiser
The armored cruiser was a type of warship of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like other types of cruiser, the armored cruiser was a long-range, independent warship, capable of defeating any ship apart from a battleship, and fast enough to outrun any battleships it encountered.The first...

 USS Pennsylvania
USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4)
The second USS Pennsylvania , also referred to "Armored Cruiser No. 4", and later renamed Pittsburgh and numbered CA-4, was a United States Navy armored cruiser, the lead ship of her class....

 anchored in San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is a shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California, flowing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from the Sierra Nevada mountains, enters the Pacific Ocean...

. Ely flew from the Tanforan airfield in San Bruno, California
San Bruno, California
San Bruno is a city in San Mateo County, California, United States. The population was 41,114 at the 2010 census.The city is adjacent to San Francisco International Airport and Golden Gate National Cemetery.-Geography:San Bruno is located at...

 and landed on the Pennsylvania, which was the first successful shipboard landing of an aircraft. This flight was also the first ever using a tailhook system, designed and built by circus performer and aviator Hugh Robinson
Hugh Armstrong Robinson
Hugh Armstrong Robinson, born May 13, 1881–1963, Neosho, Missouri. Robinson was pioneer in the earliest days of aviation, combining his skills of inventor, pilot, and daredevil. Among other things, he is said to have been the third person to successfully fly an aircraft after the Wright Brothers...

. Ely told a reporter: "It was easy enough. I think the trick could be successfully turned nine times out of ten."


The tailhook is a strong metal bar, with its free end flattened out, thickened somewhat, and fashioned into a claw-like hook. The hook is mounted on a swivel on the keel of the aircraft, and is normally mechanically and hydraulically held in the stowed/up position. Upon actuation by the pilot, hydraulic or pneumatic pressure lowers the hook to the down position. The presence of a tailhook is not evidence of an aircraft's aircraft carrier suitability. Carrier aircraft hooks are designed to be quickly raised by the pilot after use. Many land-based fighters also have tailhooks for use in case of a brake/tire malfunctions, aborted takeoffs, or other emergencies. Land-based aircraft landing gear and tailhooks are typically not strong enough to absorb the impact of a carrier landing, and some land-based tailhooks are held down with nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 pressure systems that must be recharged by ground personnel after actuation.

Arresting gear

Both carrier and land based arresting gear consists of one or more cables (aka,"arresting wires" or "cross deck pendants") stretched across the landing area and attached on either end to arresting gear engines through "purchase cables."


Prior to making an "arrested landing", the pilot lowers the hook so that it will contact the ground as the aircraft wheels touch down. The hook then drags along the surface until an arresting cable, stretched across the landing area, is engaged. The cable lets out, transferring the inertia of the aircraft to the arresting gear through the cable. A "trap" is often-used slang for an arrested landing. An aircraft which lands beyond the arresting cables is said to have "boltered
Bolter (aviation)
In naval aviation, a bolter is when an aircraft attempting to land on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier touches down, but fails to catch an arrestor cable and come to a stop...

." Occasionally, the tailhook bounces over one or more of the wires, resulting in a "hook skip bolter."

In the case of an aborted land-based takeoff, the hook can be lowered at some point (typically about 1000 feet) prior to the cable.

Should a tailhook become inoperative or damaged, sea-based aircraft have limited options: they can divert to shore runways, or they can be "barricaded" on the carrier deck by a net that can be erected.

See also

  • Arresting gear
    Arresting gear
    Arresting gear, or arrestor gear, is the name used for mechanical systems designed to rapidly decelerate an aircraft as it lands. Arresting gear on aircraft carriers is an essential component of naval aviation, and it is most commonly used on CATOBAR and STOBAR aircraft carriers. Similar systems...

  • Modern US Navy carrier air operations
    Modern US Navy carrier air operations
    Modern United States Navy aircraft carrier air operations include the operation of fixed wing and rotary aircraft on and around an aircraft carrier for performance of combat or non-combat missions. Modern United States Navy aircraft carrier flight operations are highly evolved, based on experiences...

  • Naval aviation
    Naval aviation
    Naval aviation is the application of manned military air power by navies, including ships that embark fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. In contrast, maritime aviation is the operation of aircraft in a maritime role under the command of non-naval forces such as the former RAF Coastal Command or a...

  • Carrier-based aircraft
    Carrier-based aircraft
    Carrier-based aircraft are military aircraft designed specifically for operations from aircraft carriers. The term is generally applied only to fixed-wing aircraft, as naval helicopters are able to operate from a wider variety of aviation-capable ships. Carrier-based aircraft must be relatively...

  • List of military aircraft of the United States (naval) / List of US Naval aircraft
  • United States Naval Aviator
    United States Naval Aviator
    A United States Naval Aviator is a qualified pilot in the United States Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard.-Naming Conventions:Most Naval Aviators are Unrestricted Line Officers; however, a small number of Limited Duty Officers and Chief Warrant Officers are also trained as Naval Aviators.Until 1981...

  • United States Marine Corps Aviation
    United States Marine Corps Aviation
    United States Marine Corps Aviation is the air component of the United States Marine Corps. Marine aviation has a very different mission and operation than its ground counterpart, and thus, has many of its own histories, traditions, terms, and procedures....

  • Military aviation
    Military aviation
    Military aviation is the use of aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling warfare, including national airlift capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Air power includes the national means of conducting such...

    The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program prescribes general flight and operating instructions and procedures applicable to the operation of all US naval aircraft and related activities...

External links

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