Trump Wants Steam Carrier Catapults


It’s no secret that President Donald Trump is a big fan of coal, but he surprised the Navy with his preference for steam as the power to fling planes from aircraft carriers. In an interview with Time magazine, Trump was quoted as saying that he would not approve equipping new Ford-class carriers with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System that debuted on the Gerald R. Ford. “And I said—and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said, what system are you going to be — ‘Sir, we’re staying with digital.’ I said, no you’re not. [You’re] going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.”

It would appear the comments of a crew member who showed Trump the catapult soured Trump on the electromagnetic system when the president asked how the system was working. “Sir, not good. Not good. Doesn’t have the power. You know the steam is just brutal. You see that sucker going and steam’s going all over the place and there’s planes thrown in the air.” The relative gentleness of the electromagnetic catapult was actually a key selling point in the award of the contracts for the Ford and follow-on John F. Kennedy. Although it certainly relies on a battery of computers to progressively accelerate aircraft down the deck, the “digital” system being criticized by Trump and the unnamed, but suddenly famous, crew member is a lot easier on aircraft. It also requires fewer people to operate it and self-diagnoses its glitches. The steam catapults used on Nimitz-class carriers are no longer made and redesigning the Kennedy to take a steam system, even if it was available, would probably be cost prohibitive.