Whatever happened to – EMCAT

Cast your mind back a couple of years to the feverish discussion and fretting about which variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter the MoD would select to satisfy the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement, and the more recent changing of variant, there was some hope that the UK would be able to develop an electromagnetic launch system.

The company developing the solution was called Force Engineering, then Converteam and now GE Power Conversion. Converteam and GE have a long track record with the Royal Navy and the latest news is the award of a contract to study DC power distribution in Royal Navy ships for example.

The smaller Electro Magnetic Kinetic Induction Technology (EMKIT) launch system had been in test and development for some years with hundreds of successful launches under its belt. In 2009 the MoD awarded Converteam a £650k follow on contract to continue development and up-scaling work, EMKIT to EMCAT. EMKIT actually developed out of the initial EMCAT work, if that make any sense!

EMKIT
EMKIT

The presentation below, from 2010, described progress to date including over 2,500 successful launches from EMKIT and the boundaries between a low and medium voltage technology depending on the weight of the aircraft being launched.

The significant difference between EMKIT/EMCAT was in the use of more advanced linear induction motors that allowed a much lower cost and complexity open loop control system to be utilised.

EMKIT Testing
EMKIT Testing

Timing was ultimately against it though as at one stage the US General Atomics EMALS and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system were seen as safer bets and the MoD placed a DSCA request for EMAL/AAG following the SDSR decision to change lanes.

You can see the MoD’s position, they have to get QE and JCA into service at the basic level and costly development of a solution that will not be needed in the near future would be hugely wasteful.

However, the lower capacity, mature and seemingly low low risk EMKIT technology still has promise and GE Power Conversion have continued with development of the Medium Voltage Advanced Linear Induction Machine (ALIM) technology.

In February last year GE Power Conversion released news confirming progress on the medium voltage system;

“The tests on the MV ALIM are the culmination of more than a decade of substantial investment and development in EMCAT,” he said. “Stall testing satisfied all major test objectives of this new MV LIM. Thousands of launches have been proven previously on the smaller EMKIT variant, which allows aircraft weighing up to 11 tons at speeds of up to 50 meters per second to be launched.

Smaller aircraft can be accelerated to speeds of up to 120 meters per second

MV Advanced linear machine during testing in 2012 - developed over 230 kN thrust
MV Advanced linear machine during testing in 2012 – developed over 230 kN thrust
LV launch track (EMKIT) during commissioning in 2007 - over 3000 launches since then
LV launch track (EMKIT) during commissioning in 2007 – over 3000 launches since then

 

Read more here

During all the trials the short EMKIT track (15m) was repeatably able to accelerate 500kg test loads to speeds in excess of 50m/s with growth for double that launch weight. The Elbit Hermes 450, on which Watchkeeper is based, has a maximum take off weight of 550kg

EMKIT+ would use a longer launch track (94m) to enable launch weights of up to 10,000kg’s to be accommodated.

For reference, Predator B or Reaper has a maximum launch weight of 4,763kg.

Does all this mean anything for the MoD today, probably not, it needs to get the F35 and CVF into service with as little technology risk as possible but it does open up a few interesting future options, and no, I am not talking about switching back to the F35C, but utilising our shiny new aircraft carrier(s) for sea based long range high persistence ISR.

Predator B/MQ-9 UAS fitted with a SELEX Galileo Seaspray 7500E surveillance radar
Predator B/MQ-9 UAS fitted with a SELEX Galileo Seaspray 7500E surveillance radar

Just sayin

PS, it also seems some of this technology is being thought of for all electric submarines, especially for torpedo launch.

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dave haine
dave haine
May 17, 2014 1:11 pm

Wonder if there’s a sales opportunity to the USN?

Derek
Derek
May 17, 2014 5:16 pm

The risk in the B/C switch was not in the aircraft but in the ship conversion; using a different aircraft does not change that. And Reapers are delicate when it comes to landings- not ideal for carriers.

I do wonder quite what the point of this programme actually was, they were almost certainly going to buy EMALS anyway.

wf
wf
May 17, 2014 5:59 pm

@Derek: screw down the price the Yanks wanted us to pay?

Jonesy
Jonesy
May 17, 2014 6:13 pm

Derek,

GA developed a carrier capable Mariner variant. It wouldnt be the standard land-based model. It had lowered, strengthened undercart, tailhook, wing fold etc. Structurally there was no issue. Question wouldve been over operations on deck, but, the X-47 trials didnt seem to meet any real issues…no reason to assume Mariner would be any different.

S O
S O
May 17, 2014 6:32 pm

Germany had a piston engine-driven “Landflugzeugschleuder” ~ “land-based aircraft catapult” in early 1941 which was only cancelled because RATO was even more simple.

This simple engine (320 PS) accelerated a 14.000 kg aircraft to 200 km/h on 100 m runway.

Absolutely every time I see a project about some fancy electromagnetic catapult I think to myself ‘engineers and physicists leeching R&D money for no gain’. It’s most embarrassing that they have difficulties with the excessively simplistic concept of a linear electric motor at all. Any engineer who reports a problem with such an engine and requests additional time or funds should be fired.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
May 17, 2014 9:59 pm

Hmm, the EMKIT equipment seems to have wider applications than just the QE class. What about a fixed launcher for other RN ships. Mount it with a beam launch position in about the centre of the vessel. Recovery could be via net, or sea landing followed by craning it back onto the vessel. Could be valuable as a reconnaissance asset in addition to Helos. We could even give the UAV’s names like “Sea Fox” or “Walrus” . . . . . :-D

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 18, 2014 12:55 am

Got to be the skyhook for recovery, surely….an idea so utterly bonkers that it must be worth revisiting all these years on…we must have chips that will transform an electronic handshake into a safe physical attachment, surely?

A hopeful Gloomy. ;-)

Alex
May 18, 2014 12:32 pm

I reckon SO is still a bit touchy about Siemens making such a terrible mess of Transrapid…

S O
S O
May 18, 2014 12:37 pm

Maglev is fascinating and extremely comfortable, but the reason for it being largely stuck in demonstrator stage is that it’s simply not competitive. It was basically ready for three decades technically, but won’t be ready economically ever.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
May 18, 2014 10:43 pm

: I was thinking more like this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HMS_Bermuda_aircraft.jpg

But without the steam catapult! :-)