Boeing’s Airborne Laser (ABL) Being Tested- Video


I am fairly confused about how this thing is being touted among its specified community – first the ABL is on track, then it’s being scrapped.  Then it’s back in testing, then it’s scrapped.  I’m catching up on a few hundred websites now, but from about a week ago comes this video of the YAL-1 “laser on a plane” project being tested by Boeing.  In the video, the ABL (airborne laser) tracks an in-flight missile, lases it, and destroys it.

Just a note, this was neither the first test of this laser nor its huge chemical laser in play – it was a surrogate high-energy laser on the plane.  The missile was a 36 foot long Terrier Lynx/Black Brandt missile:

Here’s the press release from Boeing:

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Aug. 13, 2009 — The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA], industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Aug. 10 successfully completed the Airborne Laser’s (ABL) first in-flight test against an instrumented target missile, achieving a historic milestone.

During the test, the modified Boeing 747-400F aircraft took off from Edwards Air Force Base and used its infrared sensors to find a target missile launched from San Nicolas Island, Calif. The Boeing-developed battle management system aboard ABL then issued engagement and target location instructions to the beam control/fire control system, which acquired the target and fired its two solid-state illuminator lasers to track the target and measure atmospheric conditions. ABL then fired a surrogate high-energy laser at the target, simulating a missile intercept. Instrumentation on the target verified that the surrogate high-energy laser hit the target.

“This test demonstrates that the Airborne Laser can fully engage an in-flight missile with its battle management and beam control/fire control systems,” said Michael Rinn, Boeing vice president and ABL program director. “Pointing and focusing a laser beam on a target that is rocketing skyward at thousands of miles per hour is no easy task, but the Airborne Laser is uniquely able to do the job.”

The test follows ABL’s engagement of two un-instrumented missiles in early June, which allowed the team to fine-tune the engagement sequence.

ABL will now undergo flight tests in which the aircraft will fire its high-energy laser, first into an onboard calorimeter, then through its beam control/fire control system. The ABL team then will test the entire weapon system against in-flight missiles, culminating with ABL’s first high-energy laser intercept test against a ballistic missile later this year.

ABL would deter potential adversaries and provide speed-of-light capability to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight. Eliminating missiles in their boost phase would reduce the number of shots required by other elements of the layered ballistic missile defense system.

“ABL’s revolutionary speed, mobility, precision and lethality would make it a great asset to America’s warfighters,” Rinn added.

Boeing is the prime contractor and overall systems integrator for ABL, and provides the modified aircraft and battle management system. Northrop Grumman supplies the high-energy laser, and Lockheed Martin provides the beam control/fire control system.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is one of the world’s largest space and defense businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is a $32 billion business with 70,000 employees worldwide.

Thanks, Danger Room!

The YAL-1 Might Get Scrapped

I have written and referred to the 747 with the big real genius laser strapped to the nose a bunch of times.  I just read an article over at Wired’s Danger Room about the YAL-1 project – some call it the “Flying Lightsaber” – and things ain’t going too well financially.  The project is $4 billion over budget, it’s dangerous as hell to the crew, and the project is about 8 years behind.  I guess that means things don’t look too good for this project.  Did I mention that in-flight operating costs are $92,000 an hour?


The laser that flies onboard – the COIL laser mentioned in previous posts (chemical oxygen iodine laser) contains some nasty, nasty stuff to power the laser reaction.  Check this out:

One of the bigger problems is the chemicals needed to start the laser chain-reaction aren’t exactly the most stable and healthiest things to have around: 1,000 pounds of chlorine, 1,000 pounds of ammonia, 12,000 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, 220 gallons of sulphuric acid.

They’re so toxic, in fact, that the Air Force documents recommend that “all personnel must be [in the] forward [part of the plane] “during taxi, takeoff, and landing.” Going to the Airborne Laser’s aft “in flight is only allowed during a declared emergency, and then only for the absolute minimum duration, in Level A hazmat suit.”

Well, that’s gonna get a run for its money from solid state laser technology at some point.  We know that solid state weaponized lasing just hit 105.5kW, but the chemical laser technology is up around the megawatt class.  Let’s see how quickly the JHPSSL can multiply that laser power factor.

From what I have read, the technology is very powerful, but quite dangerous and becoming a pain in the rear of the people funding it.  It’s got a limited range and a handful of firings of the laser – not exactly a full-time protector, per se.


Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee chair) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Obama pick for undersecretary of state arms control) aren’t real happy with the progress of this program, and they keep slamming it.  From an article at The Danger Room:

Count as unimpressed Rep. Ellen Tauscher, the influential Congresswoman and Obama administration pick for under secretary of state for arms control. She spoke yesterday at a conference co-sponsored by the Missile Defense Agency. “If you were there and you are a supporter of the Airborne Laser program, you didn’t have a good morning,” quips.

Noting that the program is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over cost, Tauscher said ABL [Airborne Laser] is the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over despite failing each time.

“We can no longer continue to do everything and explore every potential technology,” Tauscher added. “Missile defense cannot be like some second marriages — the triumph of hope over experience.”

Levin and Tauscher were also quoted in DoDBuzz while talking to a group of missile defense advocates:

The two politicians are Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. They told roughly 1,000 missile defense advocates in separate speeches that more and better testing must be done and hard choices are coming that will probably mean substantial cuts to the MDA budget. But there were also distinct signs of a hopeful nature, from the new head of MDA, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, and from one of its most persistent and respected critics, Philip Coyle, former head of Operational Test and Evaluation.

Tauscher’s line was simpler and less compromising than Levin’s. “We need to make some tough defense budget decisions,” she said, pointing to the Airborne Laser program, which is four years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. “Let me be clear. Those days are over.”

Well, goodbye big chemical laser flying machine of death.  Maybe solid state lasers will advance quickly.  I wonder how that cure for cancer’s going?


Thanks, DangerRoom, DoDBuzz, and CNet!

A Plane That Shoots Lasers at Missiles. Or Other Stuff.

Remember that movie Real Genius with Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, William Atherton, and a big ol’ laser?  You know, the one that had a bunch of students building a laser that had already been purposed as a stealth weapon?

Well, most of that has come true already.

Boeing has a plane, a 747, that is fitted with a laser cannon – a very, very large laser cannon – that’s purpose is to track large missiles (like country-killing nuclear missiles) and destroy them in the boost phase, protecting the country and being super space cowboy cool at the same time.  It’s called the YAL-1 ABL, or Airborne Laser, and it’s a bad mofo, so to speak.

ABL has what is called a COIL laser – “Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser” – packing itself into the Megawatt laser class (if you remember the movie, the kiddies in Real Genius were trying to get 5 megawatts).  The ABL basically works like this:  it flies around looking for the hot back end of a missile launching, and once the infrared sensors and kilowatt-class helper lasers onboard detect a missile in flight,they track it and search for a fail point.  The main laser then fires for three to five seconds until POP – the laser creates a fail point in the missile that causes it to explode in flight.

This is the stuff that movies are made of.

A video of the ABL – get ready for some movie-quality stuff:

Here’s a video of that big, beautiful optic turret:

Images of the Airborne Laser, or ABL:

Check out the series of articles leading up to this post – there are a LOT.  Originally it came from Environmental Graffiti, and they got it from a ton of other sources.  Here’s the official Boeing page, and a page at the USAF website – also, see info on the COIL laser.