Boeing chuffed with latest raygun-jumbo ground tests
Nuke-nobbling 747 hasn't exploded or melted so far
US aerospace colossus Boeing has informed the world that everything continues to be fine with its plan to build an enormous nuclear-missile-blasting laser cannon inside a jumbo jet. According to the company, the business part of the ray weapon has now begun ground checks using its deadly, poisonous, corrosive chemical fuel - rather than just water.
Inside the giant acid-filled aerial raygun platform.
Boeing sees this as a significant technical feat for its Airborne Laser (ABL) programme. The laser - from Northrop Grumman - has already been fully tested on the ground, but then it had to be taken apart and put together again inside the back end of the carrying aeroplane, a 747 freighter. The beam is generated chemically using very dangerous fuels, some capable of eating through pipework, valves or containers, so there was always a risk that the first time real juice was run through the beam cannon it would spring a leak, perhaps burning or melting a hole in some critical part of itself or its jumbo mothership - conceivably even causing a catastrophic explosion.
However, Boeing and Northrop aerial blaster gun engineers seem to have avoided this pitfall, as chemicals are now being run through the laser modules while fitted in the plane without mishap. The next step is actually lighting up the beam and turning the knob to full combat power, which will be another moment of truth for the system owing to the heat, pressures and energy releases involved.
"The Airborne Laser team has done a great job preparing the high-energy laser for these fuel tests, which will lead the way toward achieving 'first light' of the laser aboard the aircraft," said Mike Rinn, a big cheese in the Boeing aerial rayguns department.
Boeing still believes it's on track for first roast on the ground this year, followed by flight tests against an intercontinental missile rocket stack next year.
Despite the obvious desirability of a jumbo jet filled with tanks of explosive, corrosive, toxic acid, able to shoot frikkin' laser beams out of it to blow up space rockets, the ABL has its critics. Even if the Boeing raygun team is at last closing in on its objective, the programme's future is far from assured. ®
If you are really interested in facts
read the report of the American Physical Society on the matter:
ftp://ftp.aps.org/pub/nmd/nmdfull-report.pdf (7MB, takes a bit to appear in your browser)
Pages 139 and 141 are showing where the Laser would have to fly, if you allow 5 seconds or 20 seconds to destroy one(!) missile. Examples are North Korea and Iran. If you allow 20s, you can be further away, because the lower laser intensity is compensated by just waiting a bit longer for the missile the heat up.
Note that the Airborne Laser would have to fly near the coast of Iran to be effective against a liquid propellant missile starting from the middle of the country, or even inside(!!) Iran in order to work against a solid propellant missile (p.141) if you allow 20s to destroy one missile.
And please forget about plasma. The laser spot will about the size of a basketball, if you neglect atmospheric distortions (at least the plane has to be in the atmosphere...), and if you do the numbers you will find intensities in the kW / cm² range. That just is not enough for that. Compared to what is going on during laser cutting that is just a tickle with a warm gun...
The graphic appears to suggest they may have forgotten to leave room for a pilot.
The big question is
Will the plane be able to fire photon torpedos?