U.S. Navy Catapult Anniversary Highlights Strides in Carrier Aviation

July 12, 2014 | By Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Program Office (PMA-251)
On this day in 1916, the first catapult designed for shipboard use successfully completed calibration launching a Curtiss AB-3 from the deck of the armored cruiser North Carolina making the ship the first to be equipped to carry aircraft. Since then, U.S. Navy aircraft carrier launching technology has evolved, from hydraulics to steam-powered catapult systems, and now, electromagnetics.

The Navy's Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, "the newest carrier catapult technology in 60 years" will expand the operational capability of the Navy's future carriers beginning with the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). The mission and function of EMALS remains the same as the steam catapult; however, it employs entirely different technologies to launch a broader range of naval aircraft including all current and future carrier air wing platforms - lightweight unmanned to heavy strike fighters. The system delivers necessary higher launch energy capacity; substantial improvements in system weight, volume and maintenance; increased reliability and efficiency; and more accurate end-speed control. The system is engineered to allow smooth acceleration at both high and low speeds, increasing the carrier's ability to launch aircraft with less stress on the ship and its systems.

Having undergone several series of testing at its Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst test site in Lakehurst, New Jersey, the system continues to prove its reliability and demonstrate the advantages it brings to the fleet. The most recent testing period successfully concluded with 452 total manned aircraft launches, comprising the F/A-18E Super Hornet, T-45C Goshawk, C-2A Greyhound, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, F-35C Lightning II, EA-18G Growler and F/A-18C Hornet.

Nearly all EMALS hardware components have been delivered and installed aboard CVN 78, currently under construction at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. Starting in late 2015, the ship is scheduled to launch dead-loads, or weighted sleds, from the system. CVN 78 is projected to deliver in spring 2016, and at-sea EMALS manned aircraft launches will begin shortly thereafter.