1/19/2007 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA. -- YAL-1A, a
modified Boeing 747-400F known as the Airborne Laser,
made its return journey to the Air Force Flight Test
Center in December after undergoing modifications at
Boeing's facilities in Wichita, Kan.
The modifications on the aircraft include the
installation of the beam control and fire control
solid-state illuminators, as well as the addition of
floor reinforcements and chemical-fuel tanks. These
modifications were necessary for the integration,
later this year, of the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser,
or COIL -- a missile-killing, high-energy chemical
The COIL is composed of six interconnected modules,
each as large as a sport utility vehicle turned on
end. Each module weighs about 6,500 pounds and has
3,600 separate parts. When fired through a window in
the aircraft's nose turret, it produces enough energy
in a five-second burst to power a typical household
for more than one hour.
The Missile Defense Agency is testing and developing
the ABL as part of the boost phase defense segment of
the Ballistic Missile Defense System.
The ABL, designed to identify, track and intercept
enemy ballistic missiles shortly after missile launch,
would operate at altitudes above the clouds to locate
and track missiles in their boost flight phase, and
then accurately point and fire the high-energy laser
to intercept enemy missiles near their launch areas,
MDA officials said.
"Many modifications and improvements have been
conducted at the Birk Flight Test Facility, here, to
maintain this 'one-of-a-kind' weapons system," said
Troy Gabbard, ABL Site and Facilities Support director
Since its return in December, the aircraft began a
long-term test phase that includes the test firing of
the aircraft's low-power lasers in flight for the
During these tests, which will happen over the next
several months, the ABL will fire its two solid-state
illuminator lasers at the NC-135E "Big Crow" test
aircraft to verify the ABL's ability to track an
airborne target and measure atmospheric turbulence.
The Airborne Laser will aim the illuminators at an
instrumented target board located on a missile-shaped
image painted on the Big Crow, said Bob Suszek, ABL
project manager here.
"We have completed extensive modifications to the ABL
aircraft, the system integration lab (here) and the
Big Crow target simulator aircraft," Mr. Suszek said.
"We're preparing to fly the ABL against some dynamic
target engagements which gets us much closer to
missile shoot down."
Using the system integration lab, the COIL was fired
more than 70 times since November 2004, beginning with
a burst of a fraction of a second. Each test-firing
increased until a firing on Dec. 6, 2005, when the
COIL exceeded the full duration goal at a level
believed to be capable of destroying a ballistic
missile during the missile's boost phase, or within
the first few minutes after it is launched.
Source: USAF Edwards AFB Press Release by Tech.
Sgt. Eric M. Grill