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See Boeing's air-to-ground chemical laser in action [video]

See Boeing's air-to-ground chemical laser in action [video]

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Boeing and the U.S. Air Force successfully tested an air-to-ground laser on August 30. Now a video proves that it happened to those of us who weren't able to make it out to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Boeing and the U.S. Air Force successfully tested an air-to-ground laser on August 30. Now a video proves that it happened to those of us who weren't able to make it out to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

How's it work, you ask? A C-130H aircraft equipped with the Advanced Tactical Laser, or ATL, locked on a ground target and fired the 12,000 lb. high-power chemical laser to strike it.

Take a look:

The ATL system is complementary to the Airborne Laser, or ABL, a Boeing development for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency intended to destroy airborne ballistic missiles. The ABL system consists of a megawatt-class chemical laser mounted on a Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft.

Boeing says the C-130H transport, which belongs to the U.S. Air Force's 46th Test Wing, has been modified to carry the high-energy chemical laser and battle management and beam control subsystems.

Both systems employ a Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser, or COIL, that combines potassium, peroxide, chlorine, iodine and other abrasive chemicals and fires them at supersonic speeds. "A burst of a few seconds' duration will burn a several-inch-wide hole in whatever it hits," writes Popular Science in a March 2008 post.

Burn is the operative word here. It's not a traditional light laser that could vaporize a target; rather, the ATL is intended to weaken missiles so that they explode, melting them beyond recognition.

Boeing began developing the laser system in 2008 with an Air Force contract worth as much as $30 million.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure