NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The Navy’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) encountered problems Tuesday morning prior to a round of testing in front of media, but Navy and industry officials say the problem is minor and part of the testing process.
With media and VIPs aboard the future Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), EMALS dead load testing – where the launch system would shoot car-sized metal slugs off the carrier deck to simulate aircraft – had to be postponed after the system experienced what the ship’s commanding officer called communications problems.
“It’s generally communication-type issues of components talking together,” Capt. John Meier told reporters on the ship, though other officials onboard referred to more generic “circuitry” problems.
“Power distribution is good, the components are extremely well designed and very robust, so we do not have material failures. The challenges we have that I’ve seen have been communication-related issues.”
On Monday, the ship’s crew, along with shipbuilder Newport News Shipbuilding and EMALS manufacturer General Atomics, conducted 10 dead load tests on Catapult 2, with 15 launches in total since June 5. Today was supposed to mark the start of testing on Catapult 1, which experienced the failure.
Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin told reporters that EMALS would perform 20 more tests over at least 20 more days, and he said he was confident the system would perform well.
“I think the real key that everybody’s got to understand is, this is why we do this,” he said.
“This is new technology, this is why we’re out here doing this testing program is to prove the reliability and to prove that the system works as designed and as required by specs. I have no doubt that we’ll get it there, but today at this time, at 10:00 on Tuesday morning, isn’t going to be the day when this happens.”
Mulherin added that some of the equipment installed on the ship was not part of the EMALS land-based testing at Naval Air Warfare Center Air Division Lakehurst, N.J. He said it was too early to say whether those new “prototype” pieces were working or would need to be fixed.
Scott Forney, president of General Atomics’ Electromagnetic Systems Group, said he was confident the system would be up and running shortly and able to successfully complete the test program this month.
“We’ve already successfully tested 452 airplanes and 3,400 dead loads at the Lakehurst land-based facility, which is the same as this system,” he said.
“So it’s unfortunate timing.”
EMALS testing resumed on Ford later Tuesday.
Meier, the ship’s CO, said his crew had already taken operational control of the EMALS system and were writing the schoolhouse curriculum as they learned more about the system. He said installing and learning the EMALS system had been a positive experience for the crew.
“The system is designed around reducing the workload, reducing the wear and tear and increasing the reliability of the system,” he said.
“It’s demonstrated all of that in little bits, but we’re still early in the test program with it right now. I’m confident that we’ll get there, so I think it’s going to be a huge improvement for wear and tear on the aircraft.
He said the Navy doesn’t have thorough data yet, but the service has a “pretty strong theoretical belief” that the service life of aircraft will be extended by using EMALS instead of the legacy Mk 13 steam catapult. EMALS has a linear acceleration curve – whereas the steam catapult has a front-loaded acceleration that thrusts the aircraft forward under great pressure, the EMALS starts off a bit slower but still reaches the same end speed with less stress on the airframes.
“It can reduce the stress on the aircraft. It can launch aircraft that aren’t even on the drawing books today that are lighter or heavier,” he said, echoing comments from Navy director of air warfare Rear Adm. Michael Manazir on Monday.
“And it can also launch them under different or varying wind conditions, so it’s going to give us more operational flexibility than we have today with the current steam catapult system.”
Currently, aircraft carriers have to adjust course to ensure the planes can launch into the right wind conditions, meaning a carrier in a combat area may need to stop or turn around rather than proceeding on course to accommodate the needs of the launch system.
The Navy and industry team will finish the Catapult 1 and 2 dead load testing in the next few weeks. Catapults 3 and 4 are still under construction and will begin testing once complete. Live load testing – launching actual aircraft – will take place next summer.