Watch a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier catapult cars — well, sort-of cars — off its flight deck

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And now for something completely different: cars being launched off the deck of a Navy aircraft carrier into a river.

Well, not cars per se, but massive, heavy slabs of steel that roll on four wheels — what the Navy calls “vehicles” — designed to emulate the weight of actual fixed-wing aircraft being launched from the deck of the USS John F. Kennedy.

The fascinating test was videotaped and published last week by Huntington Ingalls Industries, showing the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding division conducting “dead-load” testing of the carrier’s electromagnetic aircraft launch system.

As seen on the clip obtained by Business Insider, the “large, wheeled, car-like structures of graduated weights up to 80,000 pounds” each travel more than 300 feet down the flight deck at more than 150 mph, “simulating an aircraft’s launch. But unlike a plane, they hit the water, sometimes with a skip, like a smooth stone” into the James River in Virginia.  The test involves 12 different sleds of various weights.

The dramatic test involves the new electromagnetic aircraft launch catapult, a system the Navy said had contributed to high costs and delays aboard USS Gerald R. Ford, the Kennedy’s predecessor and first Navy aircraft carrier to feature it. (Former catapult systems were steam-powered.) The Kennedy was launched in 2019 after more than a decade of design, development, and construction, and it cost over $11 billion.

As far as the “cars” go — and they do go surprisingly far — they’re retrieved from the water and relaunched until the conclusion of the tests, which “ensure the catapults are ready for their primary intended purpose: to launch all carrier-based fixed wing aircraft” flown by the Navy, Huntington Ingalls said in a statement. Until now, we didn’t know there was a secondary purpose.


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