Test pilots and engineers from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 successfully completed the first round of Aircraft Compatibility Testing (ACT) aboard the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) from Sept. 29 through Oct. 6.
CVN 78 is the first of the Ford-class aircraft carriers and includes many new technologies, including several related to the launch and recovery of aircraft. It is equipped with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) and the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG). Additionally, the flight deck shape and island superstructure location are different than previous classes of aircraft carrier, which results in a different airwake — the “burble” — as aircraft approach the ship for landing. Testing included certification of EMALS and AAG, a thorough evaluation of the new airwake, and multiple instrument approaches used to grant a Mode 2 Precision Approach Landing System (PALS) certification.
Previous CVN 78 testing was performed in July 2017 and consisted of four arrested landings and four catapult launches with one F/A-18F aircraft from VX-23, Salty Dog (SD) 123. The recent round of shipboard testing was performed with three VX-23 F/A-18E/F aircraft, SD100, SD121 and SD123. Additional ACT aboard CVN 78 is planned for 2019 and will include operations with F/A-18E/F, EA-18G, C-2 and E-2 aircraft.
The purposes of this testing were to verify EMALS and AAG performance and aircraft compatibility, and to qualitatively evaluate the effect of the CVN 78 burble on approach handling characteristics for comparison to Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Additionally, the certification of the ships PALS enabled the first night approaches flown to the ship, conducted to qualitatively evaluate the CVN 78 night lighting configuration for comparison to CVN 68 class aircraft carriers.
Testing consisted of 49 flight events totaling 50.4 flight hours and included shore-based Field Carrier Landing Practice for the test pilots as well as shore-based arrested landings to verify the instrumentation system on each aircraft. The shore-based arrestments were performed using the E-28 field arresting gear at NAS Patuxent River with the support of the Air Operations department.
While underway, a total of 83 catapult launches and 83 arrested landings were performed to verify EMALS and AAG performance. A total of 230 approaches were conducted and included a mix of intentionally off-nominal approaches and nominal PALS approaches to evaluate the burble’s effects on approach handling qualities, as well as to support the “Mode 2” certification. Night testing included two launches, four touch-and-goes, and two arrested landings.
Each test aircraft was instrumented by technicians from the Air Vehicle Modification and Instrumentation (AVMI, AIR-5.2.9) branch to provide loads and dynamics data to verify EMALS and AAG performance, as well as quantify pilot comments regarding their workload and what they felt through the course of the test. During shipboard testing, AVMI technicians provided on-site support to ensure aircraft instrumentation systems were providing quality data throughout testing.
Personnel from the Atlantic Test Ranges (ATR, AIR-5.2.4) were on-site during shipboard testing and provided real-time reception and display of aircraft telemetry simultaneously from each aircraft. Additionally, the ATR optical branch provided touchdown dispersion and off-center distances for each arrested landing with the use of high-speed digital cameras mounted on the flight deck. The off-center distances will be used to evaluate AAG performance, while the touchdown dispersion data was used to support PALS certification testing.
“The VX-23 maintenance detachment, which included both DynCorp contract support personnel and VX-23 Sailors, did an outstanding job ensuring the test aircraft were available and ready to support testing throughout the detachment,” said Cmdr. Johannes Jolly, chief test pilot at VX-23. “The maintenance detachment overcame significant challenges and occasionally worked through the night to provide excellent support, and enabled the successful completion of the test through their efforts.”
Review of aircraft data is being performed to support software changes to both AAG and EMALS to allow for improved performance during future shipboard operations. Test pilot feedback will be used to inform Fleet pilots on the air wake characteristics unique to this newest class of aircraft carrier.
The successful completion of this testing set the stage for CVN 78 to conduct Flight Deck and Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) certification scripts with Fleet F/A-18E/F squadrons during its next underway period.