Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System

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A drawing of the linear induction motor used in the EMALS.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), under development by the United States Navy and contractor General Atomics, will launch carrier-based aircraft from an aircraft catapult using a linear motor drive instead of the conventional steam piston drive. EMALS is being developed for the Navy's Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers.

Its main advantage is that it accelerates aircraft more smoothly, putting less stress on their airframes. Compared to steam catapults, EMALS also weighs less, is expected to cost less and require less maintenance, and can launch aircraft that are heavier or lighter. It uses far less fresh water, reducing the need for energy-intensive desalination.

Design and development[edit]

Developed in the 1950s, steam catapults have proven exceptionally reliable. Carriers equipped with four steam catapults have been able to use at least one of them 99.5 percent of the time.[1] However, there are a number of drawbacks. One group of Navy engineers wrote, "The foremost deficiency is that the catapult operates without feedback control. With no feedback, there often occurs large transients in tow force that can damage or reduce the life of the airframe."[2] The steam system is massive, inefficient (4–6%),[3] and hard to control. These control problems allow Nimitz-class steam-powered catapults to launch heavy aircraft, but not aircraft as light as many UAVs.

A somewhat similar system to EMALS, Westinghouse's electropult, was developed in 1946 but not deployed.[4]

Linear induction motor[edit]

The EMALS uses a linear induction motor (LIM), which uses electric currents to generate magnetic fields that propel a carriage along a track to launch the aircraft.[5] The EMALS consists of four main elements:[6] The linear induction motor consists of a row of stator coils with the same function as the circular stator coils in a conventional induction motor. When energized, the motor accelerates the carriage along the track. Only the section of the coils surrounding the carriage is energized at any given time, thereby minimizing reactive losses. The EMALS' 300-foot (91 m) LIM will accelerate a 100,000-pound (45,000 kg) aircraft to 130 kn (240 km/h; 150 mph).[5]

Energy storage subsystem[edit]

During a launch, the induction motor requires a large surge of electric power that exceeds what the ship's own continuous power source can provide. As of 1994, the EMALS energy-storage system design accommodates this by drawing power from the ship during its 45-second recharge period and storing the energy kinetically using the rotors of four disk alternators; the system then releases that energy (up to 484 MJ) in 2–3 seconds.[7] Each rotor delivers up to 121 MJ (34 kWh) from 6400 rpm (approximately one gasoline gallon equivalent) and can be recharged within 45 seconds of a launch; this is faster than steam catapults.[5] A max launch using 121 MJ of energy from each disk alternator slows the rotors from 6400 rpm to 5205 rpm.[7][8]

Power conversion subsystem[edit]

During launch, the power conversion subsystem releases the stored energy from the disk alternators using a cycloconverter.[5] The cycloconverter provides a controlled rising frequency and voltage to the LIM, energizing only the small portion of stator coils that affect the launch carriage at any given moment.[7]

Control consoles[edit]

Operators control the power through a closed loop system. Hall effect sensors on the track monitor its operation, allowing the system to ensure that it provides the desired acceleration. The closed loop system allows the EMALS to maintain a constant tow force, which helps reduce launch stresses on the plane’s airframe.[5]

Program status[edit]

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System at Naval Air Systems Command, Lakehurst, launching a United States Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet during a test on 18 December 2010

Aircraft Compatibility Testing (ACT) Phase 1 concluded in late 2011 following 134 launches (aircraft types comprising the F/A-18E Super Hornet, T-45C Goshawk, C-2A Greyhound, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, and F-35C Lightning II)using the EMALS demonstrator installed at Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst. On completion of ACT 1, the system was reconfigured to be more representative of the actual ship configuration on board the USS Gerald R. Ford, which will use four catapults sharing several energy storage and power conversion subsystems.[9]

ACT Phase 2 began on 25 June 2013 and concluded on 6 April 2014 after a further 310 launches (including launches of the EA-18G Growler and F/A-18C Hornet, as well as another round of testing with aircraft types previously launched during Phase 1). In Phase 2 various carrier situations were simulated, including off-centre launches and planned system faults, to demonstrate that aircraft could meet end-speed and validate launch-critical reliability.[9]

  • June 2014: The Navy completed EMALS prototype testing of 450 manned aircraft launches involving every fixed-wing carrier-borne aircraft type in the USN inventory at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst during two Aircraft Compatibility Testing (ACT) campaigns.
  • May 2015: First full speed shipboard tests conducted.[17]


Compared to steam catapults, EMALS weighs less, occupies less space, requires less maintenance and manpower, is more reliable, recharges more quickly, and uses less energy. Steam catapults, which use about 1,350 lb (610 kg) of steam per launch, have extensive mechanical, pneumatic, and hydraulic subsystems.[7] EMALS uses no steam, which makes it suitable for the Navy's planned all-electric ships.[18]

Compared to steam catapults, EMALS can control the launch performance with greater precision, allowing it to launch more kinds of aircraft, from heavy fighter jets to light unmanned aircraft.[18] Each one of the four disk alternators in the EMALS system can deliver 29 percent more energy than a steam catapult's approximately 95 megajoules; each disk alternator can supply up to 121 megajoules.[7] The EMALS will also be more efficient than the 5-percent efficiency of steam catapults.[5]


In May 2017, President Donald Trump criticized EMALS during an interview with Time, saying:

"It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it's very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said–and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said what system are you going to be–'Sir, we're staying with digital.' I said no you're not. You're going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good."[19][20][21][22][23]


In 2013, 201 of 1,967 test launches failed, more than 10 percent.

Factoring in the current state of the system, the most generous numbers available show that EMALS has an average “time between failure” rate of 1 in 240. In other words, one out of 240 launches fail.[24]

According to a January 2014 report, "Based on expected reliability growth, the failure rate for the last reported Mean Cycles Between Critical Failure was five times higher than should have been expected. As of August 2014, the Navy has reported that over 3,017 launches have been conducted at the Lakehurst test site, but have not provided DOT&E with an update of failures. The Navy intends to provide DOT&E an update of failures in December 2014."[25]

In the current test configuration, EMALS cannot launch fighter aircraft with external drop tanks mounted. "The Navy has developed fixes to correct these problems, but testing with manned aircraft to verify the fixes has been postponed to 2017".[26]

Systems that use or will use electromagnetic aircraft launch systems[edit]


Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo of the People's Liberation Army Navy has said that China's next aircraft carrier will also have an electromagnetic aircraft launch system.[27] Multiple prototypes have been spotted by media in 2012, and aircraft that capable of electromagnetic launching is undergoing testing in Chinese Navy research facility.[28][29]


The Indian navy has shown interest in installing EMALS for its planned CATOBAR Supercarrier INS Vishal.[30][31][32][32] The Indian government has shown interest to produce the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System locally with the assistance of General Atomics.[33]

The concept of a ground carriage is intended for civilian use and takes the idea of an electromagnetic aircraft launch system one step further, with the entire landing gear remaining on the runway for both takeoff and landing.[34]

United Kingdom[edit]

In October 2010, the UK Government announced it would buy the F-35C, using a then-undecided CATOBAR system. A contract was signed in December 2011 with General Atomics of San Diego to develop EMALS for the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.[35][36] However, in May 2012, the UK Government reversed its decision after the projected costs rose to double the original estimate and delivery moved back to 2023, cancelling the F-35C option and reverting to its original decision to buy the STOVL F-35B.[37]

United States[edit]

EMALS was designed for and into the Ford-class carrier.[38] A proposal to retrofit it into Nimitz-class carriers was scuttled because EMALS needed more electrical power than provided by the carriers' two Westinghouse nuclear reactors.[39] John Schank said, "The biggest problems facing the Nimitz class are the limited electrical power generation capability and the upgrade-driven increase in ship weight and erosion of the center-of-gravity margin needed to maintain ship stability." [40] Therefore, the newer Ford-class carriers were equipped with power plants that produce more electricity than the ship currently needs. This allows unforeseen technological advances to be implemented later.

Converteam UK were working on an electro-magnetic catapult (EMCAT) system for the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier.[35] In August 2009, speculation mounted that the UK may drop the STOVL F-35B for the CTOL F-35C model, which would have meant the carriers being built to operate conventional takeoff and landing aircraft using the UK-designed non-steam EMCAT catapults.[41][42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schank, John. Modernizing the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Fleet, p. 80.
  2. ^ Doyle, Michael, Douglas Samuel, Thomas Conway, and Robert Klimowski. "Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System - EMALS". Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst. 1 March. p. 1.
  3. ^ Doyle, Michael, "Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System - EMALS". p. 1.
  4. ^ "October 1946  – Westinghouse unveils the Electropult". 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Schweber, Bill (2002-04-11). "How It Works" (PDF). EDN Magazine. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  6. ^ http://www.ga.com/atg/EMS/m1346.php
  7. ^ a b c d e Doyle, Samuel & Conway, Klimowski (1994-04-15). "Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System – EMALS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004-10-25. Doyle, Samuel & Conway, Klimowski. "Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System – EMALS" (PDF). A. Disk Alternator
        The average power from the prime power is rectified and then fed to inverters. With power from the inverters, the four disk alternators operate as motors and spin up the rotors in the 45 seconds between launches. The disk alternator is a dual stator, axial field, permanent magnet machine (see Fig. 1). The rotor serves both as the kinetic energy storage component and the field source during power generation and is sandwiched between the two stators. There are two separate windings in the stators, one for motoring and the other for power generation. The motor windings are placed deeper in the slots for better thermal conduction to the outside casing. The generator windings are closer to the air gap to reduce the reactance during the pulse generation. The use of high strength permanent magnets allows for a high pole pair number, 20, which gives a better utilization of the overall active area. The rotor is an inconel forging with an inconel hoop for prestress. The four disk alternators are mounted in a torque frame and are paired in counter-rotating pairs to reduce the torque and gyroscopic effects. The rotors operate at a maximum of 6400 rpm and store a total of 121 MJ each. This gives an energy density of 18.1 KJ/KG, excluding the torque frame.
        Each disk alternator is a six phase machine with phase resistance and reactance of 8.6 mΩ and 10.4μH, respectively. At max speed, the output of one of the disk alternators would be 81.6 MW into a matched load. The frequency of this output is 2133 Hz and drops to 1735 Hz at the end of the pulse, for a max launch. Machine excitation is provided by the NdBFe 35 MGOe permanent magnets, which are housed in the rotor. These magnets have a residual induction of 1.05 T at 40° C and create an average working air gap flux density of 0.976 T, with tooth flux densities approaching 1.7 T. The stator consists of a radially slotted laminated core with 240 active slots and liquid cold plate. The maximum back EMF developed is 1122 V. Maximum output voltage is 1700 V (L-L) peak and current is 6400 A peak per phase. The disk alternator's overall efficiency is 89.3%, with total losses of 127 KW per alternator. This heat transfers out of the disk alternator through a cold plate on the outside of each stator. The coolant is a WEG mixture with a flow rate of 151 liters/minute. The average temperature of the copper is 84° C, while the back iron temperature is 61° C.
  8. ^ Bender, Donald (May 2015). "Flywheels" (PDF). Sandia Report (SAND2015–3976): 21. The system is sized to charge fully in 45 s. During a launch event, the energy stored in the rotors is released in a pulse lasting about 2 s. Peak alternator output is 81.6 MW when discharged into an impedance matched load. When fully charged, the EMALS rotors store 121 MJ (33.6 kW·h) of extractable energy at a maximum speed of 160 Hz (6 400 RPM). The total stored energy is much higher as the rotor speed only decreases by about 25% during a launch event. 
  9. ^ a b http://www.janes.com/article/39799/emals-to-start-sled-trials-on-cvn-78-in-late-2015
  10. ^ "EMALS launches first Goshawk - NAVAIR - U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command - Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Research, Development, Acquisition, Test and Evaluation". www.navair.navy.mil. 
  11. ^ "Photo release: EMALS successfully launches first Greyhound - NAVAIR - U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command - Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Research, Development, Acquisition, Test and Evaluation". www.navair.navy.mil. 
  12. ^ "NAVAIR - U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command - Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Research, Development, Acquisition, Test and Evaluation". www.navair.navy.mil. 
  13. ^ "USN undertakes first EMALS Hornet launch". Air Forces Monthly. No. 275. Key Publishing Ltd. March 2011. p. 18. ISSN 0955-7091. 
  14. ^ "Navy's new electromagnetic catapult 'real smooth'". Newbury Park Press. 28 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  15. ^ "New carrier launch system tested". Security Industry. UPI. 3 October 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  16. ^ "F-35C launches from emals". 
  17. ^ "Navy Announces Successful Test of Electromagnetic Catapult on CVN 78". www.imperialvalleynews.com. PEO Carriers. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  18. ^ a b Lowe, Christian. "Defense Tech: EMALS: Next Gen Catapult". Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  19. ^ "Read Donald Trump's Interview With TIME on Being President". Time. Retrieved 2017-05-11. 
  20. ^ Times, Navy. "Navy should return to 'goddamned steam' on carrier, Trump says". Navy Times. Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  21. ^ https://www.facebook.com/dlamothe. "‘You have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out’: Trump targets the Navy’s new aircraft catapult". Washington Post. Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  22. ^ "President Trump Wants Ford Carriers to Use ‘Goddamned Steam’ Catapults Instead of ‘No Good’ Electromagnetic Launchers". 11 May 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  23. ^ Steele, Jeanette. "General Atomics mum on Trump's 'goddamned steam' criticism of new carrier catapult". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  24. ^ "Director, Operational Test and Evaluation FY 2013 Annual Report" (PDF). 
  25. ^ "EMALS Reliability". 
  26. ^ O'Rourker, Ronald (May 18, 2017). "Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. 
  27. ^ "Chinese aircraft carrier should narrow the gap with its U.S. counterpart". english.peopledaily.com.cn. People's Daily. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  28. ^ Chinese ELS http://bbs.tiexue.net/post_5805874_1.html
  29. ^ J-15 EMALS http://www.cankaoxiaoxi.com/mil/20160923/1314163.shtml
  30. ^ "Indian Navy seeks EMALS system for second Vikrant-class aircraft carrier". 
  31. ^ "India plans a 65,000-tonne warship". 
  32. ^ a b "This US Technology Could Give Indian Aircraft Carriers an Important Edge". 
  33. ^ defence secretary to visit India in May to push aircraft carrier technologies The Times of India 5 April 2015
  34. ^ Rohacs, Daniel; Voskuijl, Mark; Rohacs, Jozsef; Schoustra, Rommert-Jan (2013). "Preliminary evaluation of the environmental impact related to aircraft take-off and landings supported with ground based (MAGLEV) power". Journal of Aerospace Operations (2): 161. 
  35. ^ a b "Converteam develops catapult launch system for UK carriers" By Tim Fish, Jane's. 26 July 2010
  36. ^ "News Channel - Homepage - flightglobal.com". Flightglobal.com. 
  37. ^ "It’s Official: UK to Fly F-35B JSFs". Retrieved 19 July 2012. 
  38. ^ AVIATIONWEEK.COM Carrier Launch System Passes Initial Tests
  39. ^ "Savings For Backfit Of FireCat to Nimitz catapults - Current ICCALS Presentation". Savings For Backfit Of FireCat to Nimitz catapults. 
  40. ^ Schank, John. Modernizing the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Fleet: Accelerating CVN 21 Production Versus Mid-Life Refueling. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2005. p. 76.
  41. ^ "Britain rethinks jump jet order". UPI.com. 12 August 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  42. ^ Harding, Thomas (12 August 2009). "Defence jobs at risk". London: Telegraph.co. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 

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