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.