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October 1946  - Westinghouse unveils the Electropult

When American aircraft carrier the USS Gerald R Ford enters service in 2015, it will be the first vessel of its kind to feature an electromagnetic launch system, rather than the steam catapult technology that’s traditionally been used  to launch aircraft from the decks of carriers.

Due to enter service in 2015, the USS Gerald Ford will be the first carrier to feature an electromagnetic launch system

Due to enter service in 2015, the USS Gerald Ford will be the first carrier to feature an electromagnetic launch system

The technology - which will help aircraft to accelerate more smoothly to launch speed - is generally viewed as “new”, it’s even been identified by Airbus as a potential way of launching civilian aircraft more rapidly and efficiently. 

But way back in 1946, The Engineer reported on a prototype system dubbed the “electropult” that was already at an advanced state of development. You can read the full article here.

The 1382ft Electropult track

The 1382ft Electropult track

‘A 440ft diameter motor, developed or rolled out so that the rotor forms a flat track upon which the flat stator can run linearly, would constitute, at first acquaintance, an unpromising machine.’ wrote The Engineer.

‘Yet this very arrangement, known as the ” electropult,” has been designed and built by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation for the United States Navy, and may well prove to be the most satisfactory answer to the problem of launching jet-propelled and robot aircraft and heavy bombers from shipboard or small landing fields without the initial impact of conventional catapults.’

The Engineer reported that two “electropults” has already been built for the US navy, one at Mustin Field, Philadelphia and another at the  Patuxent River base in Maryland.

During demonstrations at Patuxent, the system had been used to launch ‘a jet-propelled aircraft at 116 miles an hour in four and one-tenth seconds, after a run of only 340ft.’

An aircraft is harnessed to the electropult shuttle car

An aircraft is harnessed to the electropult shuttle car

While the military applications were already clear, The Engineer speculated on the technology’s potential in the world of civil aerospace. ‘The “electropult ” has no apparent limitations in speed or capacity,’ it wrote. ‘It gains in effectiveness as the size of the aircraft increases. With the ever -increasing speed and weight of a aircraft it seems reason able to expect that “electropults” eventually may become the natural choice for the larger sizes of aircraft carriers.’


Readers' comments (5)

  • Isn't it amazing how clever our ancestors were! believe it or not, they also had the silly idea of taking all those individual carts that clogged-up the streets, giving them dedicated lanes, joining them together and calling them 'trams and trains! What will they think of next.

    Apropos the overall military expenditure that we appear to be saddled (that is not a pun!) with 'in perpetuity' -perhaps there is a modern equivalent of the Ancient Greeks approach to battles. Each 'side' had a poet, whose role was to harangue his own side with verse and denigrate the opposition. If one poet did so much better than the other, his side was declared the winner and everyone went home. Can we not go one better and conduct the resolution of all our disagreements electronically. The technology is surely there, and the effect only virtual! I recall de Bono (lateral thinking chap) pointing out to the US military in 1968 that it was costing about $1,000,000 each to remove the VC from the battlefield (killed or wounded) when at that time $50,000 would have been enough to bribe anyone in Asia to stay away! The benefit was that a young man, who was alive and with $50,000 would in all probability have the good sense to buy himself an education! Possibly even at an Ivy League university. de Bono suggested dropping, instead of bombs and napalm the keys to numbered bank accounts in Switzerland and airline tickets.

    There are elements of impracticality to his proposals, but the idea is surely sound. The most successful Medieval Mediterranean City was Venice. It took the simple approach to piracy, the then scourge of trade and economic advance. It simply paid the pirates to go elsewhere. I am sure there are similar ploys we could use.

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  • Mike B....been tried....didn't work.... Danegold?

    Back on subject....This may be the first ship to have this system installed from new, but I'm fairly sure there are carriers afloat that have retro-fitted EM launch systems.

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  • Readers of science fiction will no doubt recall many stories with EM launchers for sub-orbital and orbital bound craft. To acheive the speeds needed from an earthbound system the accelaration required may reduce human occupants to jelly if not enough lauch length is used, and then atmospheric friction may play a big part, but for chucking stuff back to earth orbit from, say, the moon, or better yet, the asteroid belt, this may well be the practical solution, ... but it's not new.

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  • Electro-magnetics to replace steam catapults would relieve the "Stoker" Branch of any ship of the need to supply mineral free water to heat up to make steam. The aircraft carrier Victorious in the Far East regularly went to water rationing throughout the ship in order to keep her operational. This meant limited showers and closed bathrooms. However, more reliance on electrics in capital ships makes them more vulnerable to high altitude nuclear air burst and the EM pulse it creates.

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  • Just curious, I wonder if the EM technology can be used to launch a bomber off a carrier. Similar to the "Dolittle" raid of WW2, but without the need to strip the plane down.

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