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US Successfully Tests Laser System Aboard 747 Plane

December 3, 2008

The US military has successfully completed the first firing of a laser weapon system residing on a 747 plane. The Airborne Laser (ABL) was envisaged to deflect enemy ballistic missiles in the premature stages of their launch.

Engineers carried out the trial at ground level, shooting the laser all the way through a turret perched on the front of the plane at a virtual target. The multi-billion dollar ABL agenda has been in place for at least 12 years.

Scientists are reportedly finding other exercises for the weapon, which may aide in securing the persistent funding needed. These additional missions consist of firing surface-to-air missiles, cruise missiles and also enemy aircrafts.

In September, engineers tested the laser into a calorimeter on the aircraft. However, this is the initial testing of the beam down the length of the 747.

“The team has now completed the two major milestones it hoped to accomplish in 2008, keeping ABL on track to conduct the missile shoot-down demonstration planned for next year,” said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems.

This newest ground experiment was performed by the US Missile Defense Agency at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The laser moved down the length of the aircraft at 670 million mph. It traveled from the back area where the laser resides, down the beam control and fire control arrangement, and exited out the nose-mounted turret.

When the laser beam materialized out of the aircraft, it was caught by a diagnostic structure that also gives virtual targets for the laser. The next goal is to complete a few extended duration firings of the laser.

“Once we complete those tests, we will begin demonstrating the entire weapon system in flight,” said Michael Rinn, Boeing vice president and program director for the ABL.

The ABL is intended to light up an enemy missile with its laser tracking beam, where computers calculate the distance and analyze its path and route. After obtaining the data and locking on to the objective, a second, high-power laser emits a short burst from the turret located in the 747′s nose.

The beam fires up the highly pressurized fuel tank of the outbound missile and causes it to explode, annihilating the missile. The high-power weapon is Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) competent of creating megawatts of power.

Constructed by defense company Northrop Grumman, it is intended to wipe out “all classes” of ballistic missiles, such as tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The fuel has chemicals evident in hair bleach and drain cleaner, hydrogen peroxide and potassium hydroxide, which are then joined with chlorine gas and water.

Exterminating ballistic missiles in their boost stage, when their rockets are being fired, provides a few advantages. The intense, hot rocket exhaust helps in detecting, discrimination and how to find the missiles. It is also a lot harder to employ countermeasures, like decoys, at some point in the stage of flight.

The ruins usually end up in the enemy’s terrain, even though collateral damage in adjacent areas can cause distress. According figures from an American Physical Society report in 2004, the Airborne Laser may be able to fire down a distinctive liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Photo Credit: USAF photo by Bobby Zapka

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