Eagle Profile

James H. Flatley III

Jim Flatley entered aviation history in October 1963 as a U.S. Navy test pilot. As the Flight Test Carrier Suitability Project Pilot, he piloted the largest aircraft ever to land upon an aircraft carrier. Flatley was born in San Diego, California to aviation legend James H. Flatley Jr., a World War II fighter tactician, safety pioneer, and Pacific Theater “ace”. In 1956, Flatley graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and subsequently completed jet fighter training. In 1962, he was specially selected for test pilot duty where his first major assignment was to determine the feasibility of landing a C-130 transport aircraft on an aircraft carrier. During these C-130 test flights, Flatley, along with fellow pilot W. W. Stovall, conducted 29 touch-and-go and 21 full-stop landings aboard the USS Forrestal. The largely unmodified C-130 did not use arresting cables to stop or a catapult system to takeoff. A testament to the considerable skill of Flatley and Stovall, they landed the C-130 at weights ranging from 85,000 to 121,000 pounds. Amazingly, they were able to stop the aircraft in as little as 267 feet when operating at lighter weights, and only 745 feet when fully loaded, well within the carrier deck’s operating parameters. The more pressing restriction was the clearance distance between the carrier’s control bridge and the C-130’s wingtip – a mere 15 feet. The feasibility test was the first and only of its kind in naval aviation history. Throughout his career, Flatley commanded at many levels. During his tenure as the commander of VF-31 during Vietnam, he led his F-4 Squadron of “Phantoms” in extensive action against North Vietnam. On August 19 1972, Flatley was awarded the Silver Star for successfully leading a 45 aircraft strike mission against heavily defended North Vietnamese targets. Throughout three tours in Vietnam, Flatley flew a total of 346 combat missions. In 1981, Flatley again made naval aviation history as the first aviator in the U.S. Navy to make 1,600 carrier landings. During his 31-year career, Flatley was awarded numerous accolades including: Navy Distinguished Service Medal, five Legions of Merit, Bronze Star with Valor, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, six individual and 24 strike/group Air Medals, as well as many other medals, awards, and distinctions.

Years Honored:


2013 Lithograph

Lithograph Setting(s):

In October 1963, Navy Lieutenant Jim Flatley entered aviation history by landing a C-130 Hercules aircraft on an aircraft carrier.  During the carrier feasibility tests, Flatley, along with copilot W.W Stovall, conducted 29 touch-and-go and 21 un-arrested full-stop landings aboard the USS Forrestal.  Demonstrating considerable skill, Flatley stopped the aircraft in only 745 feet with up to 30,000lbs of cargo, a benchmark for carrier delivery capability.  The feasibility test was a success, and was the first and only of its kind in naval aviation history.