The U.S. Navy is spending several weeks testing an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which will replace steam catapults that have been used since the 1950s. The USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) successfully test fired “dead-load” tests, launching a 16,000-pound sled into the ocean at Newport News, Virginia. The ship’s sponsor Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former President Gerald R. Ford, was on site autographing and connecting the test sled to the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). The test is a major step towards the scheduled delivery of the Ford in 2016.
Although Ford will be the first Navy ship to carry EMALS, the electromagnetic launcher will be used on all future carriers. EMALS uses technology that is similar to an electromagnetic rail gun to launch an aircraft. Instead of using a piston pushed by steam, EMALS uses computer-controlled, solid-state electrics to propel an armature down a track. The new system has several advantages over steam catapults. It is quiet and consistent, with smoother acceleration, and higher launch energy. It is also more reliable and much easier to maintain.