The Navy recently begun the first test runs of its new electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS) for use aboard the forthcoming Ford-class carriers and awarded a contract for spare parts and repairs to the system that are necessary for delivery of the USS Gerald Ford in 2016.

Navy officials announced May 15 the first no-load test of the EMALS was conducted aboard the Ford, which is designated CVN-78 and has been floated but not commissioned.  

A no-load test shot is when the catapult that will launch jets from the carrier’s deck is fired without an actual or simulated aircraft attached. The tests “successfully demonstrated the integrated catapult system,” the Navy said in a statement.

EMALS will replace the steam-powered catapult system used on the Navy’s 11 Nimitz-class carriers beginning with CVN-78 and the 10 follow-on ships planned for that class. It uses an electric charge to rocket a catapult down a pair of magnetized rails.

The Navy is banking on EMALS requiring less maintenance and providing higher launch capacity, better end-speed control and smoother acceleration. EMALS also will put less stress on the aircraft, so they will last longer and require less maintenance and repair.  

“This is a very exciting time for the Navy,” Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers Rear Adm. Tom Moore said in a statement. “For the first time in over 60 years, we’ve just conducted 22 no load test shots using electricity instead of steam technology.” 

Two weeks following the initial tests, on May 26, the Navy awarded General Atomics a $600,000 contract for “repair efforts” on CVN-78’s EMALS and advanced arresting gear (AAG) systems.

The contract is a vehicle for future repairs when, and if, needed.  

It includes “non-recurring engineering, technical data, drawing changes, physical repairs and other associated repair activity” related to the launch motor subsystem, prime power/power conversion/conditioning subsystem, energy storage subsystem and control system hardware, according to a Navy document justifying the non-competitive award to General Atomics.

“The recent contract awarded by the Navy to General Atomics was a modification to a standard existing contract to provide repair parts, technical data and provide repair services if required to EMALS and AAG,” said Cmdr. Thurraya Kent, a Navy spokeswoman. “The modification was required to repair a linear motor module damaged during installation several months ago. The installation issue has been corrected. The recent no-load testing on Catapult #2 was completed successfully with no required repairs and we remain on track for dead load testing in June. Total ship EMALS testing remains on track.”

The document said the Navy will pay for the repairs with shipbuilding and conversion funds, but the fiscal year from which the funding will be allocated is redacted.

“The supplies and services … are critical to meeting CVN-78 system turnover by 11 March 2016,” when the Ford is scheduled to be commissioned, the document said. “NAVAIR does not currently possess the source files in native format or a complete technical data package to competitively procure these requirements at this time.”

Currently anchored in the James River at Newport News, Va., the Ford is 90 percent complete. At least 1,550 sailors have reported for introduction and training.

General Atomics did not respond to requests for information on the scope of work and specifics on needed repairs to EMALS. A spokesperson for Newport News Shipbuilding, which is building the Ford, was unable to comment on the repair contract. Naval Air Systems Command did not return a call seeking comment.

During the no-load testing, generators within the ship successfully generated an electric pulse, which was then passed through a power conditioning system to “linear motors” just below the flight deck, the Navy said. The motors then propelled the launching shuttle down the catapult track at speed of more than 180 knots before bringing the shuttle to a stop at the end of the track.

The next phase of EMALS testing, scheduled for this summer, will involve launching “dead-loads” off of the bow of CVN 78 into the James River. Dead loads are large, wheeled, steel vessels weighing up to 80,000 pounds to simulate the weight of actual aircraft.