Missile defence system takes to the skies

America’s Airborne Laser Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400 designed to shoot down enemy missiles using a megawatt-class chemical laser, has undergone a successful inaugural flight.

America’s Airborne Laser Aircraft (ABL), a modified Boeing 747-400 designed to shoot down enemy missiles using a megawatt-class chemical laser, has undergone a successful inaugural flight.

Aircraft 00-0001, the initial airborne platform for the ABL system, flew a 90-minute flight plan to check out the aircraft’s aerodynamic performance and system operation.

The next major program milestone is flight-worthiness testing in Wichita. The aircraft is undergoing complete systems functional checks and flight tests to verify aerodynamic performance, and surveillance system checkout.

Following flight-worthiness tests, the ABL aircraft will fly later this year to Edwards Air Force Base, California, where its tracking and high-energy laser system will be installed.

‘This system is one of the most complex engineering challenges ever undertaken in an aircraft, and our team has made solid progress,’ said Scott Fancher, Boeing Company’s vice president and ABL program director. ‘We are now at the beginning of the future of missile defence.’

Team ABL – Boeing, Lockheed Martin and TRW – is developing the airborne boost-phase missile defence system under direction from the US Missile Defence Agency.

The ABL system will use a TRW-developed megawatt-class chemical laser aboard the aircraft to shoot down missiles in their boost phase of flight.

Boeing is the ABL team leader and is responsible for developing the ABL surveillance battle-management system, integrating the weapon system and supplying the modified aircraft whilst Lockheed Martin is developing the beam control and fire control system, which will acquire the target, then point and fire the laser.