Most aircraft carriers currently use steam powered catapults to launch fighter jets. It helps them reach takeoff speed faster and leave the carrier safely, but unfortunately, they’re a pain to work with. steam powered catapults take up a lot of space on the ship, and generally require a fair amount of manpower to operate. They also require vast amounts of water. A ship can only produce or store a certain amount of desalinated water per day because the steam catapult cannot use sea water directly due to its corrosive nature. In a war-like situation where every minute matters, not being able to launch jet fighters quickly is a big issue.
So, in order to replace the traditional steam catapult, the United States Navy is working on developing a new, more practical method for launching fighter jets off aircraft carriers.
Dubbed the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System or EMALS, the new electromagnetic catapult is more resource efficient and is able to provide a steadier acceleration speed in comparison to steam catapults. The electromagnetic catapult can launch fighter jets every 45 seconds according an article published on air and space. With more tweaking and modifications the system could be able launch fighter jets to speeds reaching 240mph (390km/h).
In order to test the EMALS’ efficiency, the Navy recently conducted a test aboard the USS Gerald Ford carrier, in which they launched a sled with a dead-load made of around 80,000 pounds of steel (approximately the weight of a fighter jet) using the electromagnetic catapult.
The test demonstrated that the EMALS system not only provides smoother acceleration during launches, but also puts less stress on the aircraft. On top of that, the system also weighs less and requires less space, since it does away with the steam catapult’s piping, pumps, motors, and complex control systems.
It’s only built into one ship at this point, but EMALS is designed to be compatible with advanced aircraft carriers that the Navy plans on using in the future. More testing is needed, however, so for the time being, the Navy has retrieved the 80,000 pound test sled above from the depths of the James River, and plans to conduct more dead-load launches before actually deploying the EMALS system.