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EMALS Catapult Fixed But Won't Reach Ford Until 2019

A new electromagnetic launch system for aircraft carriers that has faltered when attempting to launch heavier planes is now sound thanks to a software fix, Navy officials announced this week. However, it won't reach the Navy's new carrier for more than a year.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, is one of several brand-new technologies installed aboard the first-of-class supercarrier Gerald R. Ford, which was commissioned July 22.

The system has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who said in a memorable May 11 interview with Time Magazine that he wanted the Navy to return to "goddamned steam" for its carrier catapults, as the new "digital" technology was unreliable and inexpensive.

Navy officials have said plans to install EMALS on the two other carriers in the Ford class are proceeding regardless.

The problems with EMALS came to light in spring 2014, when testers found the launch system exceeded operational limits when accommodating aircraft with wing-mounted external fuel tanks, causing "excessive vibrations" of the tank.

This significantly limited the air missions the carrier could accommodate. Fighters including the F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, which will launch from the Ford, frequently depart the ship with additional fuel stores.

But now the Navy says they have found a fix that will eliminate those limitations. Testing completed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey earlier this summer validated the software fix, according to a news release from Naval Air Combat Command.

In all, 71 EMALS launches were completed by a designated EMALS test team and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23, according to the release. They confirmed that both the Super Hornet and the Growler could launch with wing-mounted 480-gallon external fuel tanks without exceeding the aircraft's stress limits, officials said.

"We were confident since the day that the issue was uncovered that it was solvable," George Sulich, EMALS integrated program team lead, said in a statement. "The beauty of the system is that issues such as these can be accomplished with software updates instead of major hardware changes to machinery."

Development of a software fix that fine-tuned the EMALS control algorithm was completed in 2015 and loaded into the system this April to test compatibility with other software loads.

Officials said the final test of the fix, complete with aircraft launched, was delayed a year because there were other systems that needed to be evaluated, but that all testing for the EMALS fix has now been completed.

However, the Ford won't get the latest software improvements until 2019, according to officials. The software that will enable shipboard launches of Super Hornets with external fuel tanks will be installed following the ship's post-shakedown availability, a maintenance period that follows a new ship's first cruise.

"Test is a time for discovery and while schedules often shift, the EMALS team has done excellent work to further improve the system's controls software, eliminating concerns about undue stress to the aircraft, regardless of external fuel tank configuration, during launch," Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Program Manager Capt. Stephen Tedford said in a statement.

"This small test victory gets us that much closer to launching an aircraft with a new technology aboard America's newest aircraft carrier," he added.

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