11:12 PM

Really, Really Bad-Ass Boeing

At a large metro airport, traffic is flowing smoothly on a sunny afternoon, and inbounds are sliding in behind one-another creating the separated ballet that keeps all involved from trading tin.

About 10 DME from the outer marker, a plain Jane Boeing 747, in the livery of your United States Air Force, lumbers down the glideslope towards the fence.

But as the -47's Captain is trimming for final and dropping his gear, some ASSBITE in a Baron 55 who is late for his tee-time cuts him off in the pattern, no radio call, no respect. The Captain, flips open a switch cover on his right, ticks the switch into the ARM position, and smiles in the general direction of his FO.

The FO tries to keep things sane. “Cap't, no,” he pleads. But the Captain – on his last trip before mandatory retirement – is one assbite in a Baron over his lifetime limit. His weathered finger moves to a red button on his yoke, and as it's pushed, a gigantic round cover opens on the nose of the 747, revealing a giant turret. The turret immediately tracks the clown's Baron as he turns base to final, cutting off the inbound heavy...never a good thing. As the turret locks on the assbite, the bright light of a million suns explodes from the turret, instantly vaporizing the Baron in a white-hot explosion that would make Jerry Bruckheimer smile. It will be the very last time that assbite messes with Boeing's Airborne Laser, or ABL.
O.K., the preceding fictionalization was just for fun. The ABL – a very heavily modified laser beam with wings meant to destroy ballistic missiles – is not about to shoot down civilian planes...ever. But the story I told (again, for fun) was for a real Baron driver that cut me off one day at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, CA. Had I been flying the ABL, damned right I would have blasted the fool into nano-sized bits.

I'll bet you're reading this and saying you've never heard of a Boeing ABL? Well I had not either, until I saw this release today surface widely across the wires:
The Air Force has reached another milestone in its program to turn a Boeing 747 into a missile killer when a test crew of a 747 flying out of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Friday tracked, targeted and — after compensating for atmospheric turbulence — successfully test-fired on a second aircraft, according to a media reports. “We have now demonstrated most of the steps needed for the Airborne Laser to engage a threat missile and deliver precise and lethal effects against it,” Pat Shanahan, a vice president at Boeing, told Reuters.
Boeing's site for the division covering all the military hardware they are developing had this to say about the ABL:
The ABL will locate and track missiles in the boost phase of their flight, then accurately point and fire the high-energy laser, destroying enemy missiles near their launch areas. It operates autonomously, above the clouds, outside the range of threat weapons but sufficiently close to enemy territory. The ABL engages early, destroying ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight over launch area after it cues and tracks targets, while communicating with other joint theater assets as part of a layered defense system.
While not a space weaponry expert, I always had my doubts about many of the "Star Wars" plans that have been floated over the years to defend our country. But this one has teeth, it looks like it actually works, and it's manufactured by Boeing, who has a habit of getting things right these days. Of course, when it looks like a good thing, your government does this:
The system itself recently has taken some hits, however, with the House of Representatives cutting $250 million from the program’s budget for next year, and the Senate eliminating $200 from its version. Boeing has said that the cuts threaten to set the program back by years.
Heckuva job, Bushie.

FYI, the DoD's Missile Defense Agency site has some great 411 here, and Boeing's site on the ABL is here. You can also download an overview of the ABL here.

Photo Credit: USAF photo by Bobby Zapka

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