Navy tests new aircraft launch system

The US Navy has successfully tested a new aircraft launch system that catapaults planes into the air using a massive electric charge.

The test of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), designed and built by General Atomics, was carried out over the weekend at the Navy’s test site at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, using an F/A-18E Super Hornet aircraft.

“This event marks the first time in over 50 years that the Navy has been able to launch a carrier-based aircraft using a system other than steam,” said General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems Division vice president R Scott Forney, III.

“This milestone is an extraordinary accomplishment for General Atomics’ EMALS program.”

EMALS is a catapult launch system that is being designed for CVN-78 class aircraft carriers, replacing the steam catapults used on the current generation of carriers.

It uses a linear motor drive, and allows for more gradual acceleration than conventional steam-powered catapaults, reducing stress on the aircrsft’s frame and allowing it to launch a greater variety of aircraft. Its 300-foot motor can accelerate a 100,000-pound plane to 130 knots.

The linear induction motor consists of a row of stator coils that have the same function as a conventional motor’s rotor. It uses electric currents to generate magnetic fields which then propel a carriage down a track to launch the aircraft. Only the section of the coils surrounding the carriage is energized at any given time, minimizing reactive losses.

The first components of the EMALS equipment are scheduled for delivery in 2011.