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Navy Changing Carrier Catapult Technology

Navy Changing Carrier Catapult Technology

Local Contractors to Help By Using Electric-Powered System to Launch

Aircraft

BY BRAD GRAVES

The Navy has chosen General Atomics to refine an unconventional way of launching aircraft from a carrier , using electricity instead of steam.

GA will fine-tune the technology under a five-year, $145.6 million contract announced last week.

If all goes well, a full-length electromagnetic catapult at the Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst, N.J. , which GA will engineer under the deal , will become the model for launchers on the Navy’s next generation of aircraft carriers.

The new catapult uses linear motor technology. Some roller coasters use similar technology, though Tony Kopacz, the catapult program manager at General Atomics, said it is an inexact comparison.

At the amusement park, the vehicles don’t weigh as much or go as fast, Kopacz said.

General Atomics and Northrop Grumman did independent work on the electromagnetic catapult under an initial project phase, which began in 1999. That segment of the project brought $80 million to GA.

The two companies then bid on the next phase. The Navy announced it had picked GA on April 5.

Under the new contract, General Atomics will design, fabricate, deliver, integrate, test, and support the catapult at the New Jersey base. It will finish construction by 2006 and test it in 2007-08.

Two-thirds of the work will be done in San Diego. At its peak, the work will keep 180 to 200 people employed at GA, Kopacz said.

Subcontractors include the Pulse Sciences division of San Diego-based Titan Corp.; John J. McMullen Associates, Inc.; Kato Engineering; Foster-Miller, Inc.; STV, Inc.; and the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics.

Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Aurora, Colo., will build the $20.5 million catapult facility at Lakehurst under a separate contract. General Atomics will bring its hardware to the site.

A Navy representative said the New Jersey facility will serve as a test bed for new aircraft and launch technologies “for many years to come.”

To the casual observer, the catapult will look the same as those on today’s carriers: An aircraft will ride a metal shoe several hundred feet to the edge of the flight deck.

The difference is that electromagnetic energy will propel the shoe, rather than steam from the ship’s plant.

Company and Navy officials say the electromagnetic technology is superior in several respects. It is reportedly more energy efficient, and it requires fewer people to maintain it.

The new-style catapults will be installed on the Navy’s next generation aircraft carrier, the CVN-21. The CVN-21 is scheduled to go to sea by 2014.

The Navy plans to keep steam catapults on its existing carriers, said Tom Worsdale, a spokesman for the Navy at Lakehurst. Those carriers should be in the Navy’s inventory for 50 more years, he said.

General Atomics is a private company that does not disclose its revenue.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce estimated the company received $229.2 million worth of contracts in fiscal 2002. The Federal Procurement Data Center of the U.S. General Services Administration said General Atomics received $295.7 million worth of contracts during that year.

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