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By Sean Rice

Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Program Office (PMA-251) Communications Support

The past and future recently overlapped when the near-silent armature of the U.S. Navy’s new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, called EMALS, propelled an F/A-18C Hornet.

EMALS — the newest carrier catapult technology in 60 years — completed the second and final phase of aircraft compatibility testing (ACT) this spring at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, with the first-ever launches of the legacy Hornet.

The Hornet also marked the 35th anniversary of its inaugural flight last year.

“This is an amazing and pivotal time for naval aviation,” said Capt. Frank Morley, who leads the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265) located at NAS Pax River. “Who would have thought 35 years ago that the Hornet would launch from anything other than steam catapult technology. We are fortunate to witness this historic milestone.”

Replacing the steam launch

EMALS is replacing the steam launch system beginning with the new Ford-class carriers. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is under construction at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, where nearly all EMALS hardware components have been delivered and installed.

Phase one

The first phase of ACT successfully ended in fall 2011 with 134 manned aircraft launches, comprising the F/A-18E Super Hornet, T-45C Goshawk, C-2A Greyhound, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and F-35C Lightning II.

Phase two

ACT phase two, which concluded April 6, included launches of the EA-18G Growler and F/A-18C Hornet, and another round of launches with the current carrier-deployed aircraft that completed ACT phase one.

“We’re very pleased to be this close to delivering EMALS to the United States Navy,” said Capt. Jim Donnelly, program manager for the Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Program Office (PMA-251), located at NAS Pax River.

What’s next

Donnelly said CVN 78 is projected to deliver in spring 2016, and at-sea EMALS aircraft launches will begin shortly thereafter.

Starting in late 2015, the ship is scheduled to launch dead-loads, or weighted sleds, from the system, leading up to manned launches after delivery.

EMALS is a complete carrier-based launch system, designed to expand the operational capability of the Navy’s future carriers to include all current and future planned carrier air wing platforms — from lightweight unmanned to heavy strike fighters.