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F/A-18E Super Hornet launches

Super Hornet set for launch

USS Gerald R. Ford

Crew preps for test

Hooking up to EMALS

Ready to go

Taking off

EMALS catapult run-out

EMALS trough

C-2A Greyhound

T-45A Goshawk

Steam catapult launch, 1954

On Saturday, the U.S. Navy made its first-ever launch of an aircraft using an electromagnetic system. Formally known as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, the technology is intended to replace the steam catapults that have been used on aircraft carriers since the mid-1950s.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler
The operation took place on dry land, at the Naval Air Systems Command test site in Lakehurst, N.J. "I thought the launch went great," said Lt. Daniel Radocaj, the test pilot, in a statement. "I got excited once I was on the catapult but I went through the same procedures as on a steam catapult. The catapult stroke felt similar to a steam catapult and EMALS met all of the expectations I had."
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler
The Navy plans to install the EMALS on the USS Gerald R. Ford, a next-generation aircraft carrier scheduled to go into service in 2015. The progenitor of the expected Ford class of carriers, the ship will measure 1,080 feet long, 100 feet high, and 134 feet wide at the water line. The flight deck will be 250 feet across.

For more on the USS Gerald R. Ford, under construction in Newport News, Va., see "Making the world's most cutting-edge aircraft carrier."

Caption by / Photo by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding

Saturday's test flight was just the beginning. The Navy plans to conduct further testing in 2011, with the addition of two other aircraft, the T-45 and C-2.

For a U.S. Navy video from the launch, see "Navy launches first aircraft using EMALS."

Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy Visual News Service/Screenshot by Jonathan Skillings, CNET
A flight deck crew member gets ready to hook the F/A-18E up to the launch system. The EMALS technology is designed to handle newer, heavier, and faster aircraft than the traditional steam catapults, the Navy says.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy Visual News Service/Screenshot by Jonathan Skillings, CNET
It's thumbs-up for the test. The Navy says EMALS will provide "higher launch energy capacity;" improvements in system weight, maintenance, and efficiency; and greater accuracy of end-speed control and smooth acceleration at both high and low speeds.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy Visual News Service/Screenshot by Jonathan Skillings, CNET
The launcher begins to push the aircraft to its rendezvous with history. "Saturday's EMALS launch demonstrates an evolution in carrier flight deck operations using advanced computer control, system monitoring and automation for tomorrow's carrier air wings," said Capt. James Donnelly, Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment program manager, in a statement.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy Visual News Service/Screenshot by Jonathan Skillings, CNET
The EMALS technology has been under development for a number of years. The prime contractor for the system is General Atomics, the same company that makes the Predator unmanned aircraft.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy
Here's a look at the trough of the EMALS setup. General Atomics describes the system this way: "The EMALS system is 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."
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy
The other aircraft that will be used in EMALS testing in 2011 are the C-2A Greyhound, a turboprop-powered transport...
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy
...and the T-45A Goshawk, a two-seat jet trainer. Note the steam from the carrier's catapult system.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy
The U.S. Navy began using steam catapults in 1954. Here, an S2F-1 submarine tracker gets the honor of being the first aircraft to be launched by the C-11 catapult, installed on the USS Hancock.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Navy
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