Image: F/A-18E Super Hornet
U.S. Navy
An F/A-18E Super Hornet was the first aircraft to be launched from the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) at Naval Air Systems Command, Lakehurst, N.J.
updated 12/22/2010 7:40:16 PM ET 2010-12-23T00:40:16

The United States Navy made history on Dec. 18 when it launched the first aircraft using the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).

This technology will replace the steam catapult system relied on for more than 50 years to launch aircraft from carriers. Newer, heavier and faster aircraft will result in launch energy requirements approaching the steam system's limits.

EMALS is a complete carrier-based launch system designed for all future Ford-class, nuclear-powered carriers that are replacing the Nimitz-class carrier in use since 1975. The first ship of this new class, the Gerald R. Ford, is currently under construction and slated for completion in 2015.

The Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) program launched an F/A-18E Super Hornet Dec. 18 from a New Jersey test site using the EMALS technology.

"This is a tremendous achievement not just for the ALRE team, but for the entire Navy," said Capt. James Donnelly, ALRE program manager. "Saturday's EMALS launch demonstrates an evolution in carrier flight deck operations using advanced computer control, system monitoring and automation for tomorrow's carrier air wings."

"I thought the launch went great," said Lt. Daniel Radocaj, the test pilot who made the first EMALS manned launch. "I got excited once I was on the catapult, but I went through the same procedures as on a steam catapult. The catapult stroke felt similar to a steam catapult and EMALS met all of the expectations I had."

(You can watch the launch on YouTube.)

The mission and function of EMALS remains the same as the steam catapult; however, EMALS employs entirely different technologies. EMALS will deliver the necessary higher launch energy capacity as well as substantial improvements in system weight, maintenance, increased efficiency and more accurate end-speed control.

The system's technology allows for a smooth acceleration at both high and low speeds, increasing the carrier's ability to launch aircraft in support of the warfighter. EMALS will provide the capability for launching all current and future carrier air wing platforms — lightweight unmanned to heavy strike fighters.

Engineers will continue system functional demonstration testing on EMALS and will expand aircraft launches next year.

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