NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The USS Gerald R. Ford departed Norfolk Thursday to begin aircraft compatibility testing off the East Coast.

The first aircraft, an E-2D, landed on board Thursday at the beginning of the testing session.

The session will test the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), both of which are two systems unique to Ford, Naval Air Force Atlantic wrote in a news release.

Several different types of aircraft will be used during the testing, including T-45 Goshawks, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, and E/A-18G Growlers from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23); and E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes and C-2A Greyhounds, from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20).

“Ford is now proving all of the test-work accomplished at Joint Base McGuire-DixLakehurst, N.J. over the last year-and-a-half, that we can fly fleet aircraft as a ship with EMALS and AAG integrated,” said Cmdr. Mehdi “Metro” Akacem, Ford’s Air Boss. “This is very exciting, and it is the culmination of a year-and-a-half of training, anticipation, and teamwork.”

Ford last flew aircraft in January 2018. To date, it has 747 launches and arrestments.

“This is one of the reasons why I love the Navy,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Airman Xavier Pettway, from Jacksonville, Fla. “It’s crazy to think about. Even when we were doing drills on the flight deck my heart was beating so fast, and now, we’re doing it for real. It’s unreal, but I’m ready for it.”

The Ford’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) system’s mission and function is the same as traditional steam catapults, but uses entirely different technology.

“EMALS uses stored kinetic energy and solid-state electrical power conversion. This technology permits a high degree of computer control, monitoring and automation. The system will also provide the capability for launching all current and future carrier air wing platforms – lightweight unmanned to heavy strike fighters,” the release said.

The testing is a crucial part of the process to get toward the Ford’s flight deck certification, which is expected to be in March.

“Acting SECNAV was crystal clear when he directed all hands on deck, and I can tell you that everyone — from the highest levels of government to the crew on the deck plates and our industry partners — is laser focused on USS Gerald R. Ford being ready to enter fleet service,” said Rear Admiral James P. Downey.