Landing Signal Officer (LSO), USS Saratoga--single figure
Item Number: IWA-14
SPAD XIII, Lt. Reed Chambers, 94th Aero Squadron, USAS, Nieuwied, Germany, 1919, Inter-War Aviation
A U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier’s deck crew exists to do one thing: to consistently put aircraft into the air and safely recover them after they launch. In order to make this happen, there exists a small army of flight deck facilitators, and each individual has their own role primarily designated by the color of the shirt they wear.
A Landing Signal Officer (LSO) is a naval aviator with additional specialized training to better facilitate recovery operations on the ship. LSOs provide guidance for aircraft making approaches to the carrier. They monitor the approach and remain in contact with the pilot during the approach by hand signals.
Carrier approaches or 'passes at the boat', while analogous in technique to an approach to land at a terrestrial airport, require much more precision and have far less margin for error due to the landing area's small size (75 x 600ft). And the requirement that the plane must impact the deck on speed and on angle of attack within a small area to snag an arrester wire and trap successfully makes this even more difficult.
The Navy has adopted this policy of the landing signal officer as well-trained LSO’s can quickly dissect problems with the approach and alert the pilot to correct prior to the pilot even becoming aware that there is a problem developing.
In the U.S. Navy, aircraft carrier operations began with USS Langley (CV-1) in 1922. Langley’s initial flight operations were on an experimental basis to learn what worked and what didn't. The first pilots had no signaling system for assistance from shipboard personnel. Langley’s first executive officer, Kenneth Whiting, had a hand-cranked movie camera film every landing to aid in evaluation of landing technique. When not flying, Commander Whiting observed all landings from the aft port corner of the flight deck. Commander Whiting's position remained visible to landing pilots in critical touchdown attitudes when the nose of the aircraft might obscure the pilot's view straight ahead. Pilots found Commander Whiting's body language helpful and suggested an experienced pilot be assigned to occupy that position, using agreed signals which evolved with experience. These Landing Signal Officers or Landing Safety Officers (LSO’s) faced the incoming plane and held colored flags for improved visibility. Because LSOs used colored paddles, flags, or wands well into the jet age, the officers became unofficially known as "paddles" (US), or "batsmen" (UK). They are still referred thus to this day, and the LSO trade is referred to as "waving".