For quite some time now, the US Navy has been working on developing a powerful electromagnetic launcher that can hurl heavy fighter jets into the sky from specially-designed aircraft carriers. Aptly called the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), the technology is intended to replace the bulky steam catapults that have been around since the 1950s. Believed to be lighter and more energy-efficient than its predecessor, EMALS is currently being tested, aboard the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), at Newport News in Virginia.
Named after the 38th US President, the Ford supercarrier is scheduled to join the US Navy’s fleet in the year 2016. It will also be the first of her class to feature an electromagnetic catapult. Currently being developed by San Diego-based General Atomics, the EMALS system is far more advanced than the steam-powered catapult that has been the standard aircraft launcher since the 1950s. Unlike the latter that uses piston propelled by pressurized steam, EMALS makes use of computer-controlled linear electric motor to drive a plane down the track. Speaking about the new technology, Rear Admiral Thomas J. Moore said:
This is a very exciting time for the Navy. For the first time in over 60 years, we’ve just conducted 22 no load test shots using electricity instead of steam technology.
Although EMALS will likely be integrated into all future aircraft carriers, the US Navy will be unable to retrofit the technology to existing vessels, including the Nimitz class of warships. According to the developers, the electromagnetic catapult boasts a long list of advantages over the traditional steam-driven varieties. Apart from being significantly lighter and more energy-efficient, EMALS is believed to provide smoother acceleration, thus putting less stress on the aircraft’s body. Furthermore, it is capable of controlling the launch speed with greater accuracy, which in turn allows it to launch a far wider variety of aircraft, compared to steam catapults. It recharges faster, requires less maintenance and, is indeed simpler to operate.
So far, the technology has undergone a series of tests, starting as early as June, 2010. Phase I consisted mainly of Aircraft Compatibility Testing (ACT) programs, involving 134 manned aircraft launches. Conducted during the year 2011, the testing included the launch of F-35C Lightning II, F/A-18E Super Hornet, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and others. In the second phase, concluded last year, another 450 aircraft launches, including that of the EA-18G Growler and the F/A-18C Hornet, were carried out. Recent tests have involved the use of a dead-load – basically an unmanned wheeled sled weighing up to 80,000lbs (36,300kg) – in place of an aircraft. The video shows the sled being launched right into the sky, and then dropping straight into the James River, some hundred yards away from the bow of Gerald R Ford carrier.
Based on their observations, the developers have concluded that the EMALS system could one day catapult aircraft to speeds of around 390 km/h (approx. 240 mph). Several countries, including India and China, have shown interest in adopting the technology for their indigenous aircraft carriers.
Image Courtesy: Engadget
Source : Huntington Ingalls