For the last 60 years, the US Navy has launched fighters from carrier decks using steam catapults. While that made for some atmospheric Top Gun shots, the jerky motion adds wear-and-tear to aircraft and pilots alike. The military is now ready to test the next generation Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) aboard the new USS Gerald R. Ford after successful land trials (see the video below). EMALS uses a prescribed dose of electromagnetic energy to smoothly launch a variety of aircraft at the precise speeds needed, reducing stress on airframes. It's more adaptable to different aircraft and launch conditions than current catapults, and is well-suited for lightweight drone systems like the X-47B now aboard US carriers.
Starting in June, the Navy will start catapulting "dead loads" into a river. Eventually, EMALS will launch F/A-18 Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E2D Advanced Hawkeyes and other craft aboard Ford-class ships, which can pump out three times the voltage (13,800 volts) of older carriers. It will also catapult the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has already been tested with EMALS at the Lakehurst land proving ground. The Navy's F-35C Lightning II variant recently went through a two-week sea trial with 124 successful "cat shots" on a regular steam launcher and is scheduled to go into service by 2018.