Advanced tactical laser aircraft fires high-power laser in flight

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Members of the 413th Flight Test Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., and contractor Boeing recently successfully fired the high-power laser aboard the Advanced Tactical Laser aircraft for the first time in flight. 

The combined effort between Boeing and the 413th was instrumental to the "first light" of the high power ATL.

"This successful test is a major step toward bringing directed energy capability to the warfighter," said Gary Fitzmire, vice president and program director of Boeing's Directed Energy Systems. "We have demonstrated that an airborne system can fire a high-power laser in flight and deliver laser beam energy to a ground target."

During the test, the specially modified 46th Test Wing NC-130H aircraft equipped with the ATL weapon system took off from Kirtland and fired its laser while flying over White Sands Missile Range, N.M., successfully hitting a target board located on the ground. ATL is equipped with a chemical laser, a beam control system, sensors and weapon-system consoles.

"We have taken technology from the laboratory to reality and have now demonstrated that directed energy is on a path toward a safe and viable option for the warfighter with very unique capabilities," said Eric Van Dorn, 413th FLTS lead flight test engineer.

More tests are planned to demonstrate ATL's military utility. The system is designed to damage, disable or destroy targets with little to no collateral damage. These demonstrations support development of systems that will conduct missions on the battlefield and in urban operations.

"The time and effort from the entire team exhibited the cooperation and professionalism between the U. S. Air Force and Boeing. The culmination of this event is fantastic," said Master Sgt. Scott Wollitz, mission flight engineer. "I feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of the crew for this test. The laser shot was amazing!"

The ATL program is managed by the 687th Armament Systems Squadron, which is part of the 308th Armament Systems Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla., and supported by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland.

"It's another case of science fiction becoming reality," said Maj. James Stahl, 413th FLTS test pilot. "As a kid growing up I was fascinated by the lasers in the movie Star Wars; to be the first to fire this laser in flight is truly an honor."