Laser-cannon-equipped jumbo jet hits some serious snags

Well, darn it all. Things were looking like they were on track for the Airborne Laser Test Bed (or ALTB), a Boeing 747 equipped with a high-power laser designed to shoot down missiles. Now, after two failed tests by the ALTB, are our high-flying, laser-filled dreams coming to an end?

At first, the "Raygun 747" as it's sometimes called was off to a good start — it even managed to down a missile mid-flight, causing the Department of Defense to toss the project a little more money. This was pretty key, as the ALTB program is not only grossly over its budget, but it still feels the growing pains of pioneering new technology. For instance, the ALTB program was originally supposed to involve a fleet of planes, though it's been boiled down to only involving one.

After that first success, the laser-equipped Boeing 747 has faced two terrible failures, both blamed on technical malfunctions. The first test in September — the testers high off that first victory — wanted the plane to shoot down a missile at 100 miles, which it failed to do after technicians cited "a communications software error." The second, which took place this month, had the range cut down to 50 miles, though the laser still missed its target thanks to "the intermittent performance of a valve within the laser system."

So, three strikes and this one's out? We'll have to see. One thing's for sure, though: for now, we'll put our money on ground-to-air based systems that are showing promise.

Reuters, via Danger Room

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