Super Hornet Could Launch From Electromagnet Catapult By Christmas

The U.S. Navy might achieve the biggest breakthrough in catapult design in more than 50 years this month if it can launch an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from its new magnetic catapult system.

According to Chris Cavas at Defense News, the sea service is prepping a Super Hornet to be launched from the electromagnetic launch system (EMALS) before Christmas.

“The shot should take place within a couple of weeks,” said Rob Koon, a spokesman for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). Asked if the engineers were trying to make the launch before Christmas, Koon replied, “that’s what they’re hoping for.”

The Electro-magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is a critical piece of technology that will be installed in the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, the first of which is now under construction. If the system isn’t ready in time, the Navy would have to revert to older steam catapults to launch aircraft from the ships, a move that would mean costly delays and redesigns.

The Navy has already done hundreds of “dead load” launches from the system, at speeds up to 180s knots since the spring, according to the article. Now, the system and Super Hornet are being readied for a launch at the service’s test facility at Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst, N.J.

If all goes well, other planes ranging from the portly, prop-driven C-2 Carrier Onboard Delivery beast to the T-45 Goshawk trainer will be tested on the system. After that, the first EMALS parts could be delivered to the under-construction USS Gerald R. Ford by 2011.

While EMALS has not been without its teething problems, it will be able to launch a wider range of aircraft (including smaller) UAVs), take up far less room below deck and be less maintenance intensive than steam catapults. EMALS-maker General Atomics just signed a $676.2 million fixed-price contract to build the system.

Still, as Cavas piece says, “nothing will quiet critics like the launch of a front-line jet fighter.”

Here’s the article.

  • @Earlydawn

    Sounds good. Goes in the book with the lightweight M2 machinegun as a (relatively) cheap, simple upgrade that will go a long way. Hopefully, this can help alleviate the carrier bottleneck with faster cycle times and fewer downed catapults.

  • prometheusgonewild

    Considering this type of technological is already being used on train systems around the world (granted, with non-varying loads) it is coming to the military a bit late.
    It is good that they are finally pushing this forward…..

  • Bill

    Probably a thumbs up for the sailors who bunk under the flight decks too; steam catapults are loud as hell, coupled with with the jets.

    • bdwilcox

      Actually, probably a thumbs down. I imagine most of the noise comes from the linkage and mechanisms, so that won’t get replaced. What makes it a ‘probably thumbs down’ is the strength of the electromagnetic fields the sailors bunking under the sled will be exposed to. Oh, I’m sure the Navy will swear it’s safe and that there are no health risks, but wasn’t it the Navy that let sailors swim in radioactive water at the Bikini Atoll after the H-bomb tests?

  • Sev

    Glad to see one military project going well.

  • John Moore

    ? EMP could take it out then but the steam catapults would be unaffected?

    So is there back up built in?

    • STemplar

      There are electronics involved in a steam catapult as well, EMP, would cause problems beyond the catapult. To say nothing of the fact people are hurling nukes at US carriers….

    • FormerDirtDart

      If EMP took out the catapults, it is likely the carriers air wing would be effected too. Pilots usually eject when all the electical systems fail in their aircraft. I really doubt the would be up for being launch off of the carrier deck by a “back up steam catapult” in a powerless airplane.

      • John Moore

        I figured the planes would be hardened and you don’t need a nuke to make an EMP although it is one of the bi products.

    • Coolhand77

      I doubt the cats would be messed up any worse than any other shielded tech the military employs. First of all, a carrier is a big metal box. Any electronics for the cat will be inside that box. That box acts as kindof a Faraday Cage. Its not fool proof, nor 100%, but its not like its going to have radio antennas sticking out of the “cage” to pick up the EMP wave.

  • @MrKopfschuss

    Nice! Now just put it on destroyers, and instead of planes, launch explosive payloads.

  • Ken

    AKA Rail Gun… technology works, lighter, quieter more efficient, easier to maintain. Smart move. Guided projectiles will be launched from these things as well - but one problem where there is a rail gun there is a signature of the electronic kind and that signature can be spotted with electronic eaves dropping .. I know where you are and I will find you..

    • ampes

      another advantage of a rail gun system is no powder on board=no secondary explosions is hit, or wasted space for powder magazines or ammo lockers. Projectile production cost and time would be cut significantly. “Gun/projectile” size and effective fire range could be expanded and upsized for practically every type of ship across the board. Only real downside is the dependancy on your electrical system for your “energy” instead of your “cased powder”.

  • IknowIT

    How much power does this thing suck up, and how much time between shots?

    • Curt

      Lots, however it is very concentrated. If I remember correctly, they are using flywheels and capacitors to provide the surge capacity and smooth out the load. Launch rate is the same as a steam cat but launch profile can be tailored better to the aircraft so it reduces stress on the airframe. And if someone puts in the wrong aircraft weight, it doesn’t have the same negative effect.

      • Nuke

        Plus, who cares. They use a nuclear reactor for power.

  • fxdidan

    slept under #3 wire on the Kitty Hawk,steam makes very little noise,landing is a different story

    • Christopher Wright

      Know how you feel my shop was under cat 4 on the Hawk……

  • Stephen Russell

    Radical, replace those dated steam catapults with EM drive, How awesome.

  • Pietro Nurra

    Very good if Italian Navy can install the E-mag el cat on Cavour then switch from F-35B to F-35C take a better plane and leave tne Marines to enjoy with the B!

    • @Earlydawn

      That’d still be a pretty tight landing, even with the wires.

  • blight

    Will electromag catapult allow for launches on shorter flight deck lengths? Especially now that JSF-B’s future is in doubt, if there anything that can get an aircraft off a shorter flight deck it might be welcome.

  • Brian Black

    This is all good news for the Royal Navy who, since the decision to switch from F35B to C, plan to use EMALS in the Queen Elizabeth.
    This probably won’t help the Italian’s Cavour though. While EMALS would take up less space than a steam cat, and while the Cavour may be just large enough in theory, unlike the Queen Elizabeth class ships it was never designed to be fitted with a catapult. There is probably no practical and cost effective way to fit Cavour for CATOBAR aircraft.

  • fredmd

    This is emphatically *not* a railgun - it’s a linear induction motor.

  • TROJANII

    Umm, you only need to post once!

  • John Koper

    Forty years later, we find the application for linear induction motor technology that DOT/FRA and Garrett AiResearch pioneered for high speed ground vehicles in the ’70s. The LIMRV actually reached a top speed of 256 mph for a rail vehicle in those days. I think the vehicle is in a museum somewhere, maybe Pueblo,CO.

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