Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Airborne Laser Keeps Optical Components Aligned Perfectly to Achieve First Flight Firing of Northrop Grumman-Built Laser

Airborne Laser Keeps Optical Components Aligned Perfectly
to Achieve First Flight Firing of Northrop Grumman-Built Laser
August 19, 2009

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – One flight. Three more 'firsts' for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Airborne Laser (ABL). And a victory for 'laser alignment.'

Those were the primary achievements the airborne directed
energy system chalked up when its high-power Chemical Oxygen Iodine
Laser (COIL) was fired in-flight for the first time Aug. 18. In the
process, ABL became:

* The first mobile, megawatt-class laser
* The first airborne, megawatt-class laser, and
* The most powerful laser ever to be operated during an actual

Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC), under contract to The
Boeing Company, the ABL prime contractor, designed and built the
high-energy COIL, the most powerful laser ever developed for an
airborne environment.

Maintaining the precise alignment of optical components within
the laser while in flight ranks among the program's notable
accomplishments, according to Steve Hixson, vice president of Advanced
Concepts - Space and Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman's
Aerospace Systems sector.

"ABL has to keep all of the powerful laser's optical components
perfectly positioned as the aircraft vibrates and flexes during
flight," Hixson said. "Since we were unable to fly the kind of large
concrete pads used to hold a ground-based laser's optics in place, we
had to isolate the COIL's optics from the structure but also maintain
alignment. So the team developed an optical bench isolation system that
isolates disturbances caused by normal aircraft operations while
maintaining alignment to the gain medium, or the source of a laser's
optical power. It's like an automobile's 'smart suspension' that keeps
the car riding smoothly at the same level over a bumpy road."

The ABL aircraft is a modified Boeing 747-400F whose back half
holds the high-energy laser. The front section of the aircraft contains
the beam control/fire control system, developed by Lockheed Martin, and
the battle management system, provided by Boeing.

Guy Renard, Northrop Grumman's ABL program manager, said COIL
"operated in flight as if it was planted solidly on terra firma instead
of on an aircraft flying hundreds of miles per hour and thousands of
feet above ground." According to Renard, "Investments in ABL's
leap-ahead technologies are paying off, as this flight proved."

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security
company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products,
and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems,
shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial
customers worldwide.

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