Both Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Avengers have flying aircraft carriers.

Sky Captains and the World of Tomorrow's "Mobile Airstrip" Mobile Airstrip

The Avenger's "Helicarrier" enter image description here

Furthermore, a number of these platforms have apparently been developed in real life. What are the tactical advantages (and disadvantages) to a flying aircraft carrier?

  • 4
    Orson Scott Card had this to say about the carrier. "There is no earthly reason why an aerial aircraft carrier should exist. [Keeping] a huge heavy airship aloft takes energy. Which burns fuel at a frightening rate. And the fuel would weigh so much that the aircraft carrier in The Avengers could not possibly carry enough fuel to lift itself." Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 16:42
  • You mean other then being able to bring a massive force of power anywhere on the globe where you could protect it from being shot down?
    – Joe W
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 23:38
  • Tactical Advantage: it looks really cool. Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 1:36

3 Answers 3


Flying aircraft carriers have the added advantage of being able to traverse the limits of water borne aircraft carriers by flying over land which increases the range of their aircraft even further.

Aircraft carriers, flying or not, have the tactical advantages of A) being mobile which can present a fluid target instead of a static target and B) they increase the range of the aircraft based upon them by allowing the aircraft to launch and/or be recovered closer to their intended targets.

The enemy can't count on the carriers to remain in place between launch and recovery of the aircraft they employ which causes the enemy to constantly reconnoiter in order to keep tabs on them. Their mobility costs the enemy both time and assets.

The disadvantages are that the loss of a carrier can potentially doom the aircraft and the pilots based upon it if they are either aboard it when it is destroyed, or are out of range of another landing site due to either range or terrain when their carrier becomes inoperable. This is what happened to the Japanese carrier based aircraft employed at the Battle of Midway during World War 2.



  1. Psychological effects First of all, your enemy has to be constantly vigilant, since you can attack at any time from any direction, which will quickly wear him down and destroy his troops morale. On the other hand your soldiers will feel much better having such beast on their side.

  2. Easier take-off Since you are already in high above the ground it's much easier to take off. On water, when you run out of runway you get the most expensive bath in your life. Having 10 000 feet of safety margin you still have a chance to fix your mistake. I;m not sure how modern jets would actually handle such scenario, but it shouldn't be hard to design something that would be better suited for taking advantage from it. Hell, you can probably build a jet that doesn't need a runway - you just hurl it overboard and let the pilot take care of the rest.

  3. Mobility That's pretty obvious - you can launch your attack from almost everywhere.

  4. Payload Sometimes direct approach is the best - if you can't solve your problems with fighter jets, you load the carrier with bombs and drop them on someone's head. Or even better - load it with nukes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto Nothing can survive such onslaught.

  5. Better reconnaissance Radars generally work better from elevated position, and you can pack a huge antenna on such baby. You will see everything and you'll be able to direct your attack much better.

  6. Out of range of most weapons There aren't many weapons that can reach something which is high in the air. Countries like Russia or China surely can bring such aircraft down, but some schmucks with TNT in their pants and AK-47 in their hands? Not so much. And as USS Cole proved, they can actually hit a target which is on water.


  1. Fuel Without mumbosciencejumbo there is nothing on this planet that can power such thing. No even most efficient nuclear reactors.

  2. Fragility Sure, there are only few ways to hit such aircraft. But once you hit it, it's going down. There is no "Iron Man repairing it mid-air" scenario. With poor aerodynamics and amount of power required to keep it in the air, even small disturbance should bring it down.

  3. Impossible to land on Landing is hard enough on land-based airfields. Landing on water based carriers is considered the pinnacle of pilot's skill. Landing on a flying carrier won't be possible. Period. It's going to be a fast moving target, with little to no reference points to calculate speed, with frequently changing and unpredictable winds, clouds and hundreds other variables. No amount of skill and automation can do it. Once you take off from it, you can't go back. Which nicely brings me to my next point:

  4. Supplies How can you resupply it once it's in the air? Or how can you move people in and out? Remember, nothing can land on it, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to land the carrier itself safely any time soon. When on water, you can always come up with something, but in the air? You have only what you took before taking off.

  5. No element of surprise It's impossible to hide such beast. Enemy's radar will be screaming bloody murder the moment you get in range and if he has any decent SAMs he will be launching them like crazy (see the list of advantages if you wonder why).

I think that's all. Personally I think that one or two could be useful (once you can solve the fuel problem), but having a whole fleet of those would be counterproductive.

  • 1
    I take exception to Disadvantage #3. Most of the planes on the helicarrier appear to be VTOL and we've also seen real world drone carriers being developed
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 22:01
  • I'm not sure if VTOL is actually an advantage in this case. Traditional jet can easier synchronize its speed with the aircraft to reduce their relative velocity. The actual problem is calculating trajectory, which is hard with two fast moving objects and unpredictable factors like wind. As for the link you provided, first of all, they just came up with the general idea, we will see if it pans out. Also: drones are more disposable than humans. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 22:14

Based on the speed of the carriers they could be deployed anywhere in the World "at a moments notice".

fast strike teams of Spec Ops could use them as a base of operation. Airborne divisions could be dropped Down from them making bridgeheads anywhere and Thus negating terrain and static defenses.

Immagine an airbourne aircraft carrier in WW II???!!

It flies in from any direction, drops troops on Berlin end of war.

Öffcourse all of this is pure fiction as you would need insane abounts of fuel to feed the beast or some alternate source of energy that doesnt weigh much.

The other HUGE problem would be hiding the damn thing from radar.

Overcome those obstacles and VIOLA - Insta terror weapon :-)

  • A couple thousand paratroopers in Berlin wouldn't be worth spit. You'd need the ability to land >100 K soldiers to end World War Two at a stroke.
    – user1786
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 13:20
  • hmm... If those troops could have captured Hitler and his field marshals with a few platoons dont you think that the war would have been over ages ago?
    – Cherubel
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 13:27
  • They'd have to find him first, and get them all at the same time and place, after fighting through the thousands of soldiers in Berlin, and without being spotted in their giant metal box. A submarine raid with a dozen special forces would be far more likely to succeed. You can't conquer a nation of millions with a few thousand troops, and you can't do a commando raid with something so absurdly unstealthy.
    – user1786
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 15:46

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