On take off roll from Charleston, SC, the pilot of a Long EZ experienced a rough bump before taking into the air. Upon landing at the destination airport, the pilot discovered that the nose wheel was flat and that the left brake had lost all hydraulic fluid. The NTSB determined that the nosewheel had struck a military arresting cable on take off and blamed the pilot for inadequate preflight planning in the probable cause analysis.
Unless you’re Maverick from Top Gun, military arresting gear can really wreck your day. Unfortunately, pilots are hardly aware of the dangers presented by arresting cables, or worse; they are completely unaware of their presence at the airport.
Runway arresting cables are usually located between 1,500 to 2,800 feet from the runway threshold and may be raised up to three inches above the runway surface. They are marked by yellow circles spanning the width of the runway.
These cables are meant to be caught by the tailhook of military aircraft, but have been known to cause damage to civilian aircraft. Nose gear, tail wheel, and belly-mounted antennas are the most likely areas to receive damage from crossing cables at high speeds.
Avoidance is the best policy to adopt with respect to these runway hazards. To put it simply: land long and stop short. Imagine that the runway begins at the arresting cable, and ends just before the cable at the far end of the runway. When making the decision to land long, be sure to factor the remaining runway into your landing length considerations: you don’t want to run off the far end!
When possible, avoid taxiing over the cables. Where avoidance is not an option, taxi slowly and use full back elevator to minimize the risk of a prop-strike. Keep in mind that it is perfectly permissible, with tower’s permission, to taxi just beyond the arresting cables prior to power application for takeoff.
Pilots can determine the presence and position of arresting cables by referring to the Airport / Facility Directory, or by checking the taxiway diagram or instrument approach plates for the active runway. NACO charts depict cables as a zig-zag line with arrows crossing the runway.
NTSB Accident Reports Relating to Arresting Cables ( 1, 2, 3 )
Runway Arresting Systems for Commercial Operators by Boeing
What Is EMAS? (Emergency Materials Arresting System) at AskACFI.com