NASA Gulfstream 950NA Joins the Airborne Laser Program

NASA Gulfstream II (N950NA) shows off its new 'target' paint scheme for the ABL program, at Tulsa, OK 4/20/09
Photo: Ralph Duenas

5/13/2009 - Recently NASA's Gulfstream II '950NA' was spotted wearing a unique new 'target' paint scheme. This new look may seem odd, but it serves a specific purpose.

The USAF YAL-1A 'Airborne Laser' (ABL) program has continued testing from Edwards AFB, CA. The ABL is a highly modified 747-400F that is designed to locate and track missiles during the initial boost phase of their flight, then point and fire an onboard high-energy laser, destroying the enemy missiles while still near their launch areas. The flight testing for the program is handled by the 417th FLTS at Edwards, a unit which was specifically activated for ABL testing. Part of this initial testing involves tracking the potential missile target, and that's where an aircraft like NASA 950 comes in.

The white missile shape painted on the side of the aircraft is supposed to represent exactly that... A missile. Note there is what appears to be lights inside the window directly behind the back end of the rocket silhouette... These represent the heat and light that would emanate from the missile's engines during a launch. An aircraft like 950NA allows the ABL to test the tracking ability by focusing on the 'target' aircraft, instead of having to have an actual missile launched.

The role of 'target' was accomplished earlier in the program by the "Old Crow II" aircraft: NKC-135B (#63-8050), which was operated by the 452nd FLTS Det 2 out of Kirtland AFB. The NKC-135B was also outfitted in the same way as Gulfstream 950NA. However, the "Old Crow" was retired to Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ in 2008, still wearing it's unique ABL target scheme. So the NASA Gulfstream II was brought in.

It is unknown whether 950NA has been permanently given to the Air Force, or simply loaned to them for the program.

Source: ŠThe North Spin

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