Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Building the Next Generation US Aircraft Carrier

Construction of the next generation of US aircraft carriers is underway at Newport News Shipyard as the USS Gerald R Ford is being built (satellite view here). It is going to incorporate the latest technologies and design standards to allow for reduced manpower needs while underway, better efficiencies of power systems, and streamlined aircraft and weapons handling systems.

Aircraft carriers are only as useful as the catapults that send the planes aloft, and the steam catapult, which has been in use since just after World War II has reached its limits.

The Navy is testing a new generation of catapult that uses an electromagnetic launch system to bring planes up to flying speed. Tests have been underway at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey:

While the Ford retains many of the lines of the Nimitz class, there are notable differences. The number of aircraft elevators has been reduced from four to three, weapons elevators have been relocated to centralized areas to allow rearming at higher rates, and the deck island has been moved further to the rear to reduce the number of times a plane has to be moved around the deck to be ready to be mission ready.

Switching to the electromagnetic catapults requires more electrical power, which a new nuclear power system will do. It also frees up more space below decks for other purposes.

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