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The YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed—a Star Wars 747

31 May 2017

The U.S. military’s research investigation for an airborne laser design using a chemically powered laser (COIL—Chemical Oxygen Iodine laser). The laser fuel and COIL devices occupied the rear two-thirds of the aircraft with the largest turret assembly at the time providing the “shooting” ability.

Although testing successfully the power was a magnitude less than what would be needed realistically as well as deployment of several aircraft with fighter and electronic warfare escorts provided challenges. Additional constraints were that once the reaction was started it could not be stopped so choosing to commit to a shot was a highly troubling one to make. The aircraft would have to land to reload the chemicals required for the COILs.

The motivation for the system was to provide a fast and mobile ability to defend against tactical nuclear missiles with the laser heating the skin of the rocket during its boost phase—resulting in fuselage failure due to heated metal becoming to weak for the stresses of flight. The added disincentive to enemy forces to launch would also be there nuclear tipped missile falling, explosively, back to their operational area.

The business end of the YAL-1 (a modified Boeing 747) Airborne Laser Testbed—U.S. Missile Defense Agency image

The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed aloft (note the static discharge line trailing from the vertical stabilizer)—U.S. Missile Defense Agency image

The Airborne Laser Testbed winging its way over the western United States—U.S. Missile Defense Agency image

The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed in landing trim—U.S. Missile Defense Agency image

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick V. permalink
    31 May 2017 01:55

    Great post and I’ve always been a big fan of the ABL. People say they are trying to miniaturize the laser to fit on an F-15 size aircraft. When they do, Star Wars will truly be a reality!

    Keep up the great work and keep the posts coming!

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      31 May 2017 08:50

      An F-15 with a laser would be something!

      Thanks for the compliment though I thought you had better judgement 😉

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