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An Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Carrier?

Kris Osborn

Key Point: Aircraft carriers equipped with the EMALS system will be able to launch planes faster than ever.

The Navy now plans to use electromagnetic force to launch an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet up into the sky off of the deck of its new next-generation aircraft carrier next year – the USS Gerald R. Ford.

The advent of the Navy’s Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS marks the first time in 60-years that a fighter has shot off of a ship without using the current steam-catapult systems, senior Navy officials have said.

The first EMALS system has been under construction for several years aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, or CVN 78, the first in class of the new carriers -- recently delivered to the Navy. 

Ship integration of EMALS technology marked a substantial milestone in a program which had previously conducted deadload launches off of a ship and from land-based flight tests at the Navy facility in Lakehurst, NJ.

The EMALS system consists of a series of transformers and rectifiers designed to convert and store electrical power through a series of motor generators before bringing power to the launch motors on the catapults, Navy officials have explained.

By having an electrical pulse come down, the aircraft is pulled down to the catapult to launch; the precise weight of the aircraft can be dialed in. As the aircraft accelerates the catapult, it can reach the precise speed it needs to launch, senior Navy officials said.

Unlike steam catapults, which use pressurized steam, a launch valve and a piston to catapult aircraft, EMALS uses a precisely determined amount of electrical energy. As a result, EMALS is designed to more smoothly launch aircraft while reducing stress and wear and tear on the airframes themselves.

On the ship, EMALS will be engineered such that any of the ship’s four catapults will be able to draw power from any one of three energy storage groups on the ship, officials said.

Previous ground-based EMALS catapult tests have launched EA-18G Growlers, F/A-18 Super Hornets, C-2 Greyhound planes and E2D Advanced Hawkeyes, among others. In fact, EMALS even launched an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lakehurst, Navy officials said.

Metal decking is placed over the trough on the flight deck. Cabling and linear induction motor sections have been installed on board the USS Ford.

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