EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) — YAL-1A, the Airborne Laser aircraft, flew for 2 hours and 31 minutes here Dec. 9. The flight was part of a continuing series to re-establish airworthiness, a requirement since the aircraft has been out of service for almost two years for modifications and installation of the laser’s complex beam control system.
While the aircraft was flying, engineers in the system integration lab here were preparing for the second lasing test of the megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser.
Six laser modules were linked as a single unit and fired for the first time on Nov. 10, producing photons that make up the powerful beam.
If held on an attacking ballistic missile long enough, the beam will produce structural failure on the missile’s metal skin, destroying it before it can release its warhead.
However, the laser’s power is only part of the equation. To be effective as a missile killer, the beam must be held on the target for several seconds. This is a function of the beam control system, which will be tested as soon as airworthiness has been certified.
As the test program progresses, two illuminator lasers will be installed, along with a low-power laser which will be used as a substitute until the high-energy laser can be integrated into the system. When the more powerful system is performing to expectations, it will be installed on the aircraft so it too can be tested in flight and on the ground with the beam control system.
The Airborne Laser is one of the boost-phase segments of the overall plan to make the United States, its allies and its deployed troops safe from ballistic missile attack.