U.S. Navy Tests USS Ford's Compatibility with Legacy Aircraft

E2-D Hawkeye lands aboard USS Ford (USN)

Published Jan 17, 2020 11:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford departed Norfolk on Thursday to begin aircraft compatibility testing off the East Coast. The first aircraft handled during this round, an E-2D, has landed on board.

The primary goal of the voyage is the at-sea testing of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) - two systems that were developed for Ford. The previous round of testing was conducted in 2018 using the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and it received mixed reviews from the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). During 763 attempted shipboard landings, the Advanced Arresting Gear experienced 10 operational mission failures, according to the office, well short of the design requirement for one failure in 16,500 cycles. 

During this upcoming phase of flight trials, compatibility testing will include T-45 Goshawks, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, E/A-18G Growlers, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes and C-2A Greyhounds. For most of these aircraft classes, it will be the first time that they launch and recover from the Ford

Notably absent is the F-35C, the Navy's next-generation fighter, which cannot currently deploy with USS Ford. Due to a non-alignment of the development schedules for the Ford class and the Joint Strike Fighter program, the first two vessels in the Ford series were not designed to fully support the needs of the stealthy F-35C. Congressionally-mandated cost caps prevented retrofitting these requirements on Ford before her delivery, but the Navy says that they will be implemented before the carrier's first deployment - likely slated for 2024

Ford is now proving all of the test-work accomplished at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. over the last year-and-a-half, that we can fly fleet aircraft as a ship with EMALS and AAG integrated,” said Cmdr. Mehdi “Metro” Akacem, Ford’s Air Boss. “This is very exciting, and it is the culmination of a year-and-a-half of training, anticipation, and teamwork.”

Unlike steam catapults, EMALS uses stored kinetic energy and solid-state electrical power conversion to accelerate fighters off the deck. Since it offers a high degree of computer control, monitoring and automation, the Navy's hope is that it will give the flexibility for launching all current and future carrier air wing platforms – lightweight unmanned to heavy strike fighters.

The advanced arresting gear (AAG) is designed to provide higher reliability, increased safety margins and reduced fatigue impact load on aircraft. Like EMALS, it is designed to be adjustable for all current and future carrier-borne aircraft.

According to Rear Adm. Roy “Trigger” Kelley, Commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, USS Ford will be a valuable training platform for new pilots once she is flight-certified.  

“Once Ford’s flight deck is certified, she will become my go-to aircraft carrier responsible for conducting carrier qualifications on the East Coast for the Navy’s newest Fleet and Training Command aviators,” said Kelley. “This will be a significant boost to aircraft carrier availability and overall fleet operational readiness.”     

In the meantime, the first operational F-35C squadron will deploy aboard USS Carl Vinson. The 1982-built carrier is scheduled to take aboard the new fighter beginning in 2021.