The U.S. Navy's next-gen electromagnetic catapult for aircraft carriers is just about operational, after completing successful tests late last week.
The new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) successfully launched an 80,000 pound steel sled off the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first time a "dead-load" has been involved.
The catapults are the envy of the world, particularly China, which is still struggling to master first generation catapults that use steam. The advantages over traditional catapults lie in using electromagnetic energy which means smoother acceleration and less stress on the aircraft. This means carrier based aircraft will have longer service lives. Presently any carrier launched aircraft have significantly shorter lifespans than their land-based counterparts due to the stress placed on the airframe.
The catapults are also faster, requiring no time to build steam pressure between launches. This means operations on the flight deck can move much faster, which will be key as the navy switches to smaller unmanned drones. More drones on deck will mean more launches and on current carriers the catapult is the bottleneck. The EMALS system will remove this.
The catapult will be one of the key pieces of technology present in the Navy high tech next generation carriers. For now, the tests with the weight sled will continue and the Navy has already retrieved the sled from the James River to conduct more dead-load launches in the coming weeks.