WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy made history this week, launching its first-ever aircraft that uses advanced electromagnetic technology.
The test operation of the F/A-18 E Super Hornet signaled a significant achievement in the Navy's anticipated shift away from steam catapults used on aircraft carriers for more than 50 year.
Its manufacturer, General Atomics, said the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System test took place at the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst in New Jersey. It said that while one launch took place Dec. 18, several others have since followed.
"The launch demonstrates an evolution in carrier flight deck operations using advanced computer control, system monitoring, and automation for tomorrow's carrier air wings," Capt. James Donnelly, aircraft launch and recovery equipment program manager, said in a statement.
The U.S. Navy has much of its future vested in the so-called EMALS launch system. It is a critical piece of technology that will be featured in the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. The first of the fleet is being currently constructed and if the launch system is not ready in time, the Navy may be "forced to revert to older steam catapults to launch aircraft from the ships," the Defense News Web site reported.
That, experts say, would spell added costs and redesigns.
The Navy says it needs the "higher launch energy capacity" of the electromagnetic system in order to handle newer, heavier and faster aircraft. It is expected also that the EMALS will help improve system weight, maintenance and efficiency, as well as accuracy of end-speed control and smooth acceleration at both high and low speeds.
A statement by the U.S. Navy indicated more than 722 launches of test loads have been made at the Lakehurst compound since the start of the year. The speeds attained were up to 180 knots, the highest end-speed requirement for the system.
It is also understood that other Navy aircraft carriers will be part of the EMALS test program next year. These include the C-2 carrier-on-board delivery and the T-45 Goshawk jet trainers.
The maker, General Atomics, describes EMAL as "a multimegawatt electric power system involving generators, energy storage, power conversion, a 100,000 hp electric motor, and an advanced technology closed loop control system with diagnostic health monitoring."
General Atomics also builds the Predator unmanned aircraft vehicles. Its $676 million contract to produce EMALS includes advanced, electronic arresting gear for use on the new Ford-class carrier.