Science: Slingshot for Jets

When aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy make ready to launch their planes, they turn into the wind and steam at high speed. But even with a stiff breeze whipping across the flight deck, attack bombers and jet fighters often need a large and cumbersome catapult to boost them up to flying speed. And on a hot, calm day, the thrust of this giant slingshot is barely enough to toss them aloft.

This week H.M.S. Perseus, light (12,265 tons) carrier of the Royal Navy, was en route to Philadelphia, prepared to demonstrate a new catapult designed to handle hefty modern aircraft. The...

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