General Atomics come calling
Buoyed by their path-breaking success in designing and developing a high-end technology successor of the currently in use steam generated catapult system for launching aircraft from the aircraft carriers, General Atomics of USA proudly presented capability, significant features and potential of electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and advanced arresting gear (AAG) in Delhi May 22, 2013.
Worldwide experience of operating steam-driven catapults for launching aircraft from the aircraft carriers has been quite challenging, stressful, if not harrowing. To surmount the perennial difficulties several alternative technologies have been developed and tried out with limited successes. Vertical & short take-off & landing (V/STOL) and short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) were two parallel developments to catapult take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR), with the latter still being the preferred option for the sake of larger payload for ordnance and endurance. Development of EMALS is seen as the true game changer which its original developers, General Atomics Electromagnetics have pronounced as launching a new era in the naval aviation. EMALS has all the right ingredients to emerge as a worthy replacement for the currently and widely in use steam catapults. Besides, EMALS promises to substantially reduce the operating costs, reduced manpower to operate, improve catapult performance and expand the range of manned and unmanned aircraft for carrier borne operations.
In late 1999, General Atomics (GA), San Diego, California, was awarded one of the two preliminary design and risk reduction (PDRR) contracts to build and test a prototype EMALS for the US Navy at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) land-based test facilities in Lakehurst, New Jersey. EMALS is a multi-megawatt electric power system involving generators, energy storage, power conversion, a 1,00,000 HP electric motor and an advanced technology closed-loop control system with diagnostic health monitoring. In 2004, GA was awarded the follow-on system development and demonstration (SDD) contract to build a full-scale EMALS at NAVAIR’s test site and perform system validation tests. The joint GA and government team has successfully commissioned the test site using dead-weights representing various aircraft weights and have completed 134 manned aircraft launches across five different types of naval aircraft, culminating with the launch of the F-35C, Joint Strike Fighter. Encouraged by the stupendous success achieved by GA, beginning with the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) EMALS would be the standard fit for all US Navy aircraft carriers in the future.
In tandem with EMALS, during 2003 GA launched a R&D mission for a replacement of the traditional arresting gear in use today. Relentless pursuit of the mission for nearly a decade resulted in the development of Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG). One of the two contracts to develop the AAG was awarded to GA in 2003. Since then, GA has completed more than 5,600 simulated arrested recoveries on full-scale electrical components in its facility in San Diego, California. A single-wire AAG has been installed at NAVAIR’s Jet Car Track Site land-based test facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey. This system has been commissioned by arresting dead-loads simulating various aircraft weights. System performance verification testing is currently in progress.
The AAG programme with an electric motor-based system that will replace the currently in use Mk-7 hydraulic system for aircraft deceleration during recovery operations will be the standard fit for the US Navy aircraft carriers. AAG allows arrested recoveries of a broader range of aircraft, reduces manning and maintenance, and provides higher reliability and safety margins. GA’s design replaces the mechanical hydraulic ram with rotary engines using simple, proven energy-absorbing water turbines coupled to a large induction motor, providing fine control of the arresting forces.
Production contracts for full ship-sets of both AAG and EMALS equipment were awarded to GA in 2009. Both systems are under production and began delivery to the shipyard in 2011. These systems are symbols of revolutionary advancements in carrier launch and recovery operations and offer a less stressful environment for shipboard operators, aircrews and aircraft.
F-35C completes the first catapult launch
The F-35C Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, concludes the first
round of catapult testing for the F-35C