USS Ford Completes Aircraft Compatibility Testing

T-45 on the deck of the USS Ford (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 02-05-2020 09:47:00

 The first-in-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford has completed compatibility testing with five different airframes over the course of a 16-day trial sailing. 

The testing phase included underway catapult launches and arrested landings for the T-45 Goshawk, E/A-18G Growler, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and C-2A Greyhound. Crews also tested F/A-18F Super Hornets, which had conducted an earlier round of compatibility tests on board Ford in 2017.

According to the Navy, this second and final round of testing validated the ship’s capability to launch and to recover aircraft with ordnance loadout and fuel states mirroring deployed requirements and operating tempos. By completing T-45 testing, the Ford will be able to provide carrier qualification support for student naval aviators.

“There are so many firsts happening, and many of them we frankly don’t even really realize,” said Ford’s Air Boss, Cmdr. Mehdi Akacem, toward the end of the testing evolution. “We’ve had the first ever T-45, EA-18 Growler, E-2D Hawkeye, and C-2A Greyhound, and there are pilots on board this ship right now who will forever be able to say that their contribution to the Navy was to be the first pilot or [Naval Flight Officer] to come aboard the Gerald R. Ford-class in that type aircraft.”

During the trial, test pilots conducted catapult launches and arrested landings in order to test the performance mandates for the ship's novel electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and advanced arresting gear (AAG). Over the course of two weeks, they conducted 211 successful launches and arrestments. The Navy did not specify the success rate for all attempted launches and recoveries, nor whether the performance mandates were achieved, but it said that information captured during the trial will inform improvements and modifications for USS Ford and the follow-on vessels in the class. USS Ford's EMALS and AAG systems have previously drawn criticism from the Pentagon's procurement watchdog for a lower-than-expected reliability rate.

The trial also allowed the crew and embarked test personnel to qualitatively evaluate the Ford-class carrier's air wake and its compatibility with all of the fleet aircraft the Navy uses on a carrier. Aircraft were launched and recovered in different environmental conditions and sea states, and with varying aircraft weights—from heavy aircraft in light wind conditions to light aircraft in heavy wind conditions.

“At this point we’ve proven time and time again—this underway with 211 launches and recoveries on-and-off the deck—that we’re ready to shoot and catch all aircraft,” said Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Louis Mountain. “Ford is ready.”

The tests did not include the Navy's newest stealth fighter, the F-35C, which Ford is not yet fully equipped to support.