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Laser Jet’s Toxic Interior

It turns out those scary Air Force documents are good for something other than guiding firefighters and triggering panicked headlines. They also show just how hard it would be to actually make a laser-firing 747 work.
The $7.3 billion Airborne Laser is the Air Force’s attempt to refit a commercial 747 jet with a chemical-powered laser. But it hasn’t been easy — missed deadlines, bloated budgets, you name it.
One of the bigger problems is the chemicals needed to start the laser chain-reaction aren’t exactly the most stable and healthiest things to have around: 1,000 pounds of chlorine, 1,000 pounds of ammonia, 12,000 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, 220 gallons of sulphuric acid.
They’re so toxic, in fact, that the Air Force documents recommend that “all personnel must be [in the] forward [part of the plane] “during taxi, takeoff, and landing.” Going to the Airborne Laser’s aft “in flight is only allowed during a declared emergency, and then only for the absolute minimum duration, in Level A hazmat suit.“
Now, some folks out there have been pushing the Airborne Laser, hard. They really dig the idea of energy weapons, and want to see one built, finally, after decades of promising.
I think it’s safe to say that anyone visiting this site has a soft spot for ray guns. But a weapon with limited range, a handful of shots, in-flight maintenance costs of $92,000 per hour, and enough chemicals that the crew has to wear hazmat suits to stay aboard? I’d rather wait for my energy weapons, thank you very much.
(Big ups: Michael)

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

DS April 12, 2006 at 10:27 am

not to mention, what if one of these puppies went down in a city? talk about toxic soup…

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Wembley April 12, 2006 at 12:14 pm

It’s going to get banned because of chemical weapons conventions, isn’t it?

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JB April 12, 2006 at 12:18 pm

Still seems worth it as a prototype. Chemical spills in the desert and ocean aren’t all that bad. How much oil gets spilled there every day?
We have to do the R&D on all the components to keep our lead. If it means we make do with a nasty chemical laser to make the prototype work, so be it.
Even with a few shots it has value. How many long range missiles does North Korea have? What’s the PR value of knocking a NK missile out of the air the next time they try to fly one over Japan?

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Marshall April 12, 2006 at 3:35 pm

I can’t see how it would even be remotely legal to operate such a vehicle in American airspace, let alone through the airspaces of any other sensible country.
Is there any aspect of this system that wouldn’t be carried out better by a series of multiply redundant land based versions?

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Moose April 12, 2006 at 4:32 pm

JB just about nails my sentiment.

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Big D April 13, 2006 at 11:15 pm

I agree… ABL’s laser technology is a dead end, and will be supplanted in a few years by some sort of solid state, OLED, or similar electricity-based laser.
BUT… in the meantime, ABL serves as a good testbed for all of the *other* things that have to be developed, like the optics, fc, battle management, sensors, heat/waste management, and everything else that goes into flying a giant laser cannon.
I still suspect the reason the AF classifies it as a demonstrator is because they believe that there will eventually be production models armed with an entirely different laser.

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Vaughn December 23, 2006 at 8:11 pm

Why waste anymore time with this toxic avenger waiting to happen, when the H.A.A.R.P. project in Alaska can do it all. WITHOUT a toxic spill. And don’t forget, not only can it microwave the nosecone radar off any and all bogeys in flight, it can induce an earthquake, or hurricane on the launch platform as well. Read the book, Angels Don’t Play This H.A.A.R.P.

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