U.S. Navy’s Aircraft Launch Rail Gun Revealed

Details of the U.S. Navy’s new generation, electrically powered aircraft launch and recovery system, currently under test for the first time on the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) carrier, are visible in a large-scale model at the Singapore Airshow. 

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is in development to replace the traditional steam piston catapult launch system on current carriers. The new configuration also includes the electrically powered Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), which replaces the hydraulic arresting gear in use on the Navy’s 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

The EMALS catapult, which is powered by a linear induction motor, is designed to accelerate aircraft more gradually than the steam system and put less stress on the aircraft. The system is also lighter and more flexible than the current design and is capable of launching a wider range of aircraft weights. The AAG is also designed for a broader range of aircraft, including UAVs.

The large-scale cutaway model shows the linear induction motors of the EMALs as well as the banks of rotary engines incorporated in the AAG. Fine control of the arresting forces is provided by a large induction motor, which is coupled to energy-absorbing water turbines.

Tests on the Ford, the eponymous lead ship of navy’s first new class of carriers since the 1970s, are part of efforts to assess the performance of the technology for launch and landing operations. The system has proved more challenging to develop than expected, and improvements are underway to boost reliability for the required sortie generation rate. The service is evaluating aircraft compatibility before the scheduled deployment of the Ford in 2022.

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.


You forgot to mention that one of the intended advantages of the EMALS system is reduced maintenance requirements.

BTW, how is the "debugging" working out on the Ford?
Could they have at least put properly-scaled jets on that carrier deck model? Sheesh!