USS Ford Launches and Recovers First Fighter
On July 28, 2017 the first-in-class carrier USS Gerald R. Ford launched and recovered her first jet, an F/A-18F piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Jamie Struck of the Navy's Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23. The first arrested landing, or "trap", occurred at 3:10 PM and the first catapult launch happened at 4:37 PM.
The Superhornet caught the number two arresting wire of Ford's advanced arresting gear (AAG) system and was launched from catapult one using the electromagnetic launch system (EMALS).
"Today, USS Gerald R. Ford made history with the successful landing and launching of aircraft from VX-23 using the AAG and EMALS," said Adm. Phil Davidson, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces. "Great work by the Ford team and all the engineers who have worked hard to get the ship ready for this milestone."
The launch and recovery were significant because of the development difficulties and cost overruns the two systems have suffered. AAG ended up costing considerably more than expected after testing revealed that an energy-absorbing component (a paddle wheel immersed in a water tank) was under-engineered and would not survive repeated use. The Navy nearly decided to discontinue its use in future ships of the Ford class, but determined that the necessary modifications would be too costly. In a statement, the Navy said that "AAG is designed to provide higher reliability and safety margins, as well as to allow for the arrestment of a greater range of aircraft and reduce the fatigue impact load to the aircraft."
EMALS had problems with excessive stresses on F/A-18 wing structures when the planes launched fully loaded. Software modifications have resolved this, and the Ford’s systems will receive an update when she goes into post-shakedown availability in 2019.
"My team has worked very hard, together with experts from NAVAIR, Huntington Ingalls Industries, and General Atomics, to test this first-in-class technology," said Cmdr. Thomas Plott, head of Ford's air department. "Today is a validation of their dedication and hard work."