This Digital Catapult Can Launch Jets

By

We’ve seen quite a few changes in aviation in the last few years, both in the commercial and military sectors. New technologies, such as drones, have made regulating air space more complicated.

Security has become an even greater concern, too. There were reportedly fewer than 100 air marshals in 2001, while today they number as many as 5,000. Customer service and overbooking issues have been hot topics lately as well.

A new technology for launching aircraft from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers has now been making headlines, too. This new technique demonstrates a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. is getting its planes into the air.

The New Fighter Jet Technology

For the last 60 or so years, aircraft carriers have used steam to get aircraft off the ground. In this system, somewhere around 1,350 pounds of live steam propels a piston along an opening in the flight deck, pulls the aircraft along and sends it into the air. Often, this steam is diverted from the nuclear-powered turbines on board.

The USS Gerald R. Ford recently became the first aircraft carrier to complete a successful test launch of an aircraft using a new technology — an electromagnetic launch system, or EMALS.

How the Digital Catapult Works

The EMALS works similarly to the steam catapult system, except it uses power electronics. A linear induction motor (LIM), consisting of a row of stator coils, moves the carriage and the aircraft along the track.

To get enough power for a launch, the system uses a kinetic energy storage system that is made up of four disk alternators. The storage system can recharge in 45 seconds and releases all of its stored energy in two to three seconds using a cycloconverter.

The system can monitor the speed of the aircraft during the launch process and make adjustments as necessary. This is a distinct advantage of steam-powered systems, which don’t have feedback control systems and can’t adjust speeds mid-takeoff.

Challenges of an Electronic System

The electronic system has had its share of problems. During an earlier test launch of F/A-18s with wing-mounted fuel tanks, it caused so much vibration in the wings the Navy worried about safety. The Navy and tech company General Atomics created a patch for the software to fix the vibration problem, which has been successfully tested but not applied yet.

Scaling the components to the large scales needed also presents challenges. The motor generator required, for instance, weighs over 80,000 pounds. The software needed for the system will also likely need continued updates and fixes.

The Future of EMALS

The Navy expects the USS Gerald R. Ford to receive the software update to fix the vibration problem in 2019, after which final tests will be conducted. Despite calls from President Trump to go back to using steam, all future aircraft carriers will likely use EMALS to launch their aircraft. The Navy says it hasn’t received any orders from the White House about the systems and plans to continue developing and installing them.

Although the Ford is the first in its class and the first new U.S. aircraft carrier design in the last 40 years, a new carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, is currently under construction. The Navy has also started work on the USS Enterprise.

Although developing and implementing the new digital system has presented challenges and proved to be quite expensive, EMALS and other similar advancements are estimated to save the Navy $4 billion in maintenance costs over the lifetime of the Ford and run more efficiently than the steam-powered systems.

That’s likely enough to keep pushing forward with such innovations. It’s hard to argue with savings and efficiency. 




Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Writer

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Related Articles

Coding and Invention Made Fun

By: Special Guest    10/12/2018

SAM is a series of kits that integrates hardware and software with the Internet. Combining wireless building blocks composed of sensors and actors con…

Read More

Facebook Marketplace Now Leverages AI

By: Paula Bernier    10/3/2018

Artificial intelligence is changing the way businesses interact with customers. Facebook's announcement this week is just another example of how this …

Read More

Oct. 17 Webinar to Address Apache Spark Benefits, Tools

By: Paula Bernier    10/2/2018

In the upcoming webinar "Apache Spark: The New Enterprise Backbone for ETL, Batch and Real-time Streaming," industry experts will offer details on clo…

Read More

It's Black and White: Cybercriminals Are Spending 10x More Than Enterprises to Control, Disrupt and Steal

By: Cynthia S. Artin    9/26/2018

In a stunning new report by Carbon Black, "Hacking, Escalating Attacks and The Role of Threat Hunting" the company revealed that 92% of UK companies s…

Read More

6 Challenges of 5G, and the 9 Pillars of Assurance Strategy

By: Special Guest    9/17/2018

To make 5G possible, everything will change. The 5G network will involve new antennas and chipsets, new architectures, new KPIs, new vendors, cloud di…

Read More