For decades, the US Aircraft Carrier fleet has been hurling planes into the sky with the aid of steam. However, a new generation of ships are about to launch with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). It’s been tested with weights and unmanned drones, but for the first time, a real fighter jet has been launched by the EMALS system on the USS Gerald R. Ford.
The catapults used on most aircraft carriers divert steam from the ship’s nuclear reactor to operate the system. This is a “quick and dirty” way to generate the mechanical power necessary to accelerate a 30,000-pound plane to about 170 miles per hour across just a few hundred feet of runway. The only viable alternatives thus far have been shorter, ramped runways.
If the steam catapults work, why bother developing an expensive electromagnetic version? The roots of today’s steam catapults go back to World War II, but simple doesn’t always mean good. These systems require a lot of maintenance and it’s difficult to tune them to launch smaller aircraft like drones. They also limit ship design — if you ever want to build an aircraft carrier without a nuclear power plant (and some countries are doing just that), you’d need a separate boiler for the catapult. EMALS just needs electric power.
Read more: https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/253467-us-navy-launches-first-jet-electromagnetic-catapult