Geek Out

The Awesome $5b Airborne Laser Is In The Boneyard, Never To Fire Again

Despite being a total success, the USAF’s Airborne Laser was killed by the Pentagon back in December 2011. Now she’s resting wrapped in her death shroud with the rest of planes in “permanent storage” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

The high-energy laser ballistic missile interceptor was developed by Boeing and the US Air Force. Mounted on a Boeing 747-400F, they called it the Boeing YAL-1. It took 16 years of development and $US5 billion to reach its final and successful test, on February 11, 2010.

It happened at 8:44 Pacific Standard Time, at the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off the central California coast. A missile simulating a SCUD launched from a platform at sea. The Airborne Laser Test Bed’s sensors detected the launch, tracking its trajectory with a low-energy tracking laser. A second laser was focused on the missile to measure the atmospheric disturbance, gathering data to achieve the perfect firing solution. Seconds later, the ALTC unleashed its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, causing a massive structural failure in the missile as it was rising in the sky. Ka-boom.

Sad to see her that way. At least, the Pentagon is now using the experience to develop drones with lasers. Which, let’s face it, sounds pretty cool, even while it would probably cost us another $US5 billion to make the first (or two Curiosity rovers). [Flight Global]


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