Landing on an aircraft carrier always has been a challenging maneuver, distinguishing naval pilots from all others. Since the earliest days of the experimental USS Langley (CV-1), pilots have been aided by the landing signal officer (LSO). At first, the LSO’s outstretched arms waved semaphore flags to indicate whether the pilot’s approach was too low, too high, or okay. As aviators gained more experience with carrier landings, new signals were added: arms outstretched signified a clear deck; a 45-degree slash told the pilot to throttle back and land; a frantic waving of the flags overhead indicated it was unsafe to land.
LSOs became ubiquitous figures on flight decks, positioned on the port side near the stern. The semaphore flags eventually were replaced with various types of paddles, some with brightly colored strips of cloth that fluttered to catch the pilot’s eye. “Paddles” soon became the LSO’s trademark and nickname. LSOs, naval aviators themselves, continue to aid pilots today as they approach U.S. carrier decks, but the semaphore flags and paddles long since have given way to sophisticated optical landing systems.
Douglas E. Cambell and Stephen J. Chant, “Fresnel Lens Optical Landing Systems (FLOLS),” Patent Log (Syneca Research Group, 2013).
Robert G. Dosé, “The First Mirror Landing,” The Hook 15, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 27.
Robert Dunn and Robert C. Rubel, “Gear Up, Mishaps Down: The Evolution of Naval Aviation Safety: 1950–2000,” Naval War College Review 71, no. 3 (Summer 2018).
Donald D. Engen, “‘Roger, Ball’—How It Started,” The Hook 15, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 24.
“It’s Done with Mirrors,” Naval Aviation News, 20 (date of publication unknown).
“Obituary: Rear-Admiral Nicholas Goodhart,” The Telegraph, 22 April 2011.
“USS Bennington Tests Out New ‘Mirror Landing Aid,’” USS Bennington Association.