USS Gerald R Ford launches first aircraft using electromagnetic catapult
The USS Gerald R Ford scored a double first less than a week after commissioning, as the nuclear-powered supercarrier launched and recovered a fighter plane for the first time using an electromagnetic catapult. On July 28, an F/A-18F Super Hornet piloted by Commander Jamie Struck was launched from the flight deck by the ElectroMAgnetic Launch System (EMALS) shortly after arrival, when it made the first arrested landing with the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system.
At first sight, the landing and takeoff of the Super Hornet on the Ford looked as conventional as any other touchdown and launch, but the superficial similarity hid technology that had never been used at sea before. For over 60 years, aircraft carriers around the world have launched fixed-wing aircraft using steam catapults, wherein a head of live steam blasted a piston down a slot in the flight deck that dragged the airplane along and hurled it into the air.
It's a system that worked, but it's complicated and requires a lot of crew to operate it and maintain it. Manufactured by General Atomics, the EMALS aboard the Ford replaces, for the first time, all that steam plumbing with an electromagnetic rail gun that does the same job, but is much simpler in design and easier to power. According to the US Navy, it's more reliable, easier to maintain, and has a higher launch energy capacity than previous systems.
To allow fast jets to land on the relatively tiny deck of the carrier, the conventional arresting wire system has been replaced with the new AAG system. Also built by General Atomics, this replaces the old hydraulic arrestor wire system used to decelerate aircraft with one based on electric motors and energy recovery systems. Because the AAG is computer-controlled, it requires fewer crew to operate, can be quickly set for everything from light drones to heavy fighter bombers, and has self-diagnostic systems to reduce maintenance costs.
"AAG and EMALS have been successfully tested ashore at Lakehurst, New Jersey, but this is the first shipboard recovery and launch of a fleet fixed-wing aircraft," says Captain Rick McCormack, Ford's commanding officer.
The USS Gerald R Ford is the first new US aircraft carrier design in 40 years as well as the first in the Gerald R. Ford class. The second ship, USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) is under construction and work has begun on the future USS Enterprise (CVN 80).
The video below shows the first electromagnetic launch from the USS Gerald R Ford.
Source: US Navy