Why do British aircraft carriers have ramps?

British aircraft carriers, paragons of naval might, and technological wonders, have become a byword for the nautical strength of the United Kingdom.

The ramp, often called a ski jump, is one of the most interesting aspects of these ships.

This article will discuss the history of the introduction of ramps on British aircraft carriers, the advantages they provide, and the worldwide impact of this architectural decision.

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The Origins of Ramps in British Aircraft Carriers

The Harrier Jump Jet

The Harrier Jump Jet, a rare aircraft with Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) capabilities, is directly responsible for the development of the ramp.

With its capacity to take off and land short of a full-length runway, the British-designed Harrier in the 1960s allowed it to operate from smaller ships. Why do British aircraft carriers have ramps.

The Falklands War

The ramp’s effectiveness was further highlighted during the Falklands War in 1982.

The British used the Harrier’s V/STOL capabilities and the ramps on their aircraft carriers to achieve air superiority against Argentina, showcasing the value of this innovative design.

How Ramps Enhance Aircraft Carrier Performance

Shorter Takeoff Distance

Ramps allow aircraft to take off with a shorter runway distance.

By launching aircraft at an upward angle, they can achieve the necessary lift with a shorter run, saving valuable deck space and allowing carriers to carry more aircraft.

Increased Payload Capacity

With a shorter takeoff distance, aircraft can carry more fuel and weapons, resulting in a higher overall payload capacity.

This increased capability enables British carriers to project more power and influence globally.

The Science Behind the Ramp

The Ski-Jump Concept

The ramp works on the principle of converting horizontal velocity into vertical lift.

As the aircraft accelerates along the runway and reaches the ramp, it is launched upwards at an angle, allowing it to achieve the necessary lift with less speed and runway distance.

Optimizing the Angle

The angle of the ramp is critical to its effectiveness. A steeper angle would provide more lift but require higher takeoff speeds, while a shallower angle would require a longer runway.

British engineers have meticulously studied and optimized the ramp angle for maximum performance and efficiency.

The Queen Elizabeth Class: A New Generation of British Aircraft Carriers

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, both members of the Queen Elizabeth Class, are the most cutting-edge and modern British aircraft carriers.

The F-35B Lightning II, a fifth-generation stealth aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing (V/STOL) capabilities, is optimized for performance by the ship’s 12-degree ski-jump ramp.

Global Power Projection

These carriers represent the UK’s commitment to maintaining a powerful naval presence and projecting power around the world.

The ramp design ensures that the carriers can effectively utilize their full complement of F-35B aircraft, maximizing their strategic value.

The Influence of British Ramp Design on Other Navies

India’s Vikramaditya and Vikrant

INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant use British ramps.

This decision highlights the effectiveness and global influence of the British ramp concept.

Italian Cavour and Trieste

Similarly, the Italian Navy has incorporated ramps into the design of its aircraft carriers, Cavour and Trieste, showcasing the widespread recognition of the ramp’s benefits.

Ramps vs. Catapult-Assisted Takeoff

Ramp Advantages

Ramps offer several benefits, including lower costs, less complex maintenance, and increased flexibility.

They allow for quicker aircraft launch sequences, enabling carriers to respond rapidly to changing situations.

Catapult-Assisted Takeoff Advantages

Catapults can launch heavier aircraft with more fuel and payload, providing a longer range and increased striking power.

However, catapult systems are more expensive, require more maintenance, and can be less adaptable to different aircraft types.

Choosing the Right System

The decision to use ramps or catapults depends on the strategic goals and budget constraints of the navy in question.

The British chose ramps for their carriers due to the advantages they offer in cost, maintenance, and flexibility.

The Future of Ramps in British Aircraft Carriers

Continued Development

The British Royal Navy remains committed to refining and improving the ramp design.

Future developments may focus on optimizing the ramp’s angle, materials, and performance to further enhance the capabilities of British carriers.

Integration with Advanced Aircraft

As new aircraft are developed, the ramp design must evolve to accommodate their unique requirements.

This will ensure that British carriers can continue to effectively utilize their aircraft to project power around the world.

Challenges and Limitations of Ramps

Weather Sensitivity

Ramps can be more sensitive to adverse weather conditions, such as high winds or rough seas.

This could potentially limit the carrier’s ability to launch aircraft in certain situations.

Limited Aircraft Compatibility

Not all aircraft are compatible with ramp-assisted takeoff.

For example, larger, heavier aircraft may require catapults to achieve the necessary lift.

This limits the types of aircraft that can be operated from carriers with ramps.

The Significance of British Ramps in Global Power Projection

Strategic Advantages

The adoption of ramps by the British Royal Navy has allowed them to project power more effectively across the globe.

The ability to quickly launch aircraft with increased payload capacity provides a significant strategic advantage.

Influence on Other Navies

The successful implementation of ramps on British aircraft carriers has influenced other nations to adopt similar designs, thereby shaping the global landscape of naval power.

The Role of Ramps in Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Operations

Rapid Response Capability

The ability to launch aircraft quickly using ramps can be crucial during humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

The rapid deployment of aid, medical supplies, and personnel can save lives and alleviate suffering.


The flexibility provided by ramps allows carriers to operate in a variety of environments and conditions, making them valuable assets in responding to global crises.


Why don’t American carriers have ramps?

American carriers don’t have ramps primarily due to their preference for the catapult-assisted takeoff system, which enables launching heavier aircraft with greater payload capacity and range, providing a more versatile and powerful naval aviation capability.

Why does a British aircraft carrier have a ramp?

British aircraft carriers have ramps to enable shorter takeoff distances, allowing for increased payload capacity and faster aircraft launch sequences, ultimately enhancing the carrier’s overall performance and power projection capabilities.

Do Chinese carriers have catapults?

While China’s first two aircraft carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, utilize ramps, their upcoming third carrier, known as Type 003, is expected to feature a catapult-assisted takeoff system, enhancing its aircraft launch capabilities and operational versatility.


In conclusion, ramps play a significant role in enhancing the capabilities of British aircraft carriers and projecting power around the world.

The adoption of ramps allows for shorter takeoff distances, increased payload capacity, and rapid launch sequences, providing strategic advantages in various scenarios.

The widespread influence of British ramp design on other navies highlights its effectiveness and underscores the importance of continued innovation and development in this area.

As the world faces an increasingly complex and unpredictable security landscape, the role of ramps in British aircraft carriers will remain crucial in maintaining global peace and stability.