"Airborne Laser Operations will be conducted in the U.S. airspace" NOTAM says. The U.S. still pursuing the YAL-1 project goals?

Brought to my attention by Jared Soergel on The Aviationist Facebook page, the following NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) issued on the FAA website for Indianapolis and Cleveland ARTCC, disseminates the information about Airborne Laser Operations conducted daily between Apr. 03 and 30 in a large area located on the eastern part of the United States, at altitudes in the range FL360 – 450 (36,000 to 45,000 feet).

FDC 2/0447 – .. SPECIAL NOTICE..
AIRBORNE LASER OPERATIONS
0200-0900 UTC DAILY. EFFECTIVE 1204030200 UTC UNTIL 1204300900 UTC.
AIRBORNE LASER OPERATIONS WILL BE CONDUCTED DAILY IN AN AREA
DEFINED BY 330256N/0851235W OR LAGRANGE (LGC) VORTAC AND
355429N/0835341W OR VOLUNTEER (VXV) VORTAC AND 412149N/0820943W OR
DREYER (DJB) VOR/DME AND 430707N/0774035W OR ROCHESTER (ROC) VOR/DME
AND 442337N/0731057W OR BURLINGTON (BTV) VOR/DME AND
445051N/0685242W OR BANGOR (BGR) VORTAC AND 433000N/0680000W AND
410000N/0680000W AND 360000N/0750000W AND 340000N/0760000W AND
310000N/0810000W AND BACK TO THE ORIGINAL POINT FROM FL360 TO FL450.
THE LASER BEAM MAY BE INJURIOUS TO PILOTS/AIRCREWS AND PASSENGERS
EYES FOR A DISTANCE OF 5000 FEET BELOW THE AIRCRAFT NOT EXTENDING
BELOW FL180. THIS AREA WILL BE MONITORED BY OBSERVERS AND THE LASER
BEAM WILL BE TERMINATED IF NON-PARTICIPATING AIRCRAFT ARE DETECTED
THAT MAY ENTER THE AFFECTED AREA. OTHER VISUAL EFFECTS MAY OCCUR AT
GREATER DISTANCES. THE DOMESTIC EVENTS NETWORK /DEN/,
AT 202-493-5107, IS THE FAA COORDINATION FACILITY. WIE UNTIL UFN. CREATED: 02
APR 18:43 2012

FDC 2/0421 – ..SPECIAL NOTICE..
AIRBORNE LASER OPERATIONS WILL BE CONDUCTED EFFECTIVE:
0200-0900 UTC DLY FROM 1204030200 UTC UNTIL 1204300900 UTC.
IN AN AREA DEFINED BY 330294N/0851235W OR LAGRANGE (LGC) VORTAC AND
355429N/0835368W OR VOLUNTEER (VXV) VORTAC AND
412149N/0820972W OR DREYER (DJB) VOR/DME AND
430707N/0774035W OR ROCHESTER (ROC) VOR/DME AND
442362N/0731095W OR BURLINGTON (BTV) VOR/DME AND
445051N/0685242W OR BANGOR (BGR) VORTAC AND
433000N/0680000W AND 410000N/0680000W AND
360000N/0750000W AND 340000N/0760000W AND
310000N/0810000W AND BACK TO THE ORIGINAL POINT FROM
FL360 TO FL450. THE LASER BEAM MAY BE INJURIOUS TO
PILOTS/AIRCREWS AND PASSENGERS EYES FOR A DISTANCE OF 5000
FEET BELOW THE AIRCRAFT NOT EXTENDING BELOW FL180. THIS
AREA WILL BE MONITORED BY OBSERVERS AND THE LASER BEAM WILL
BE TERMINATED IF NON-PARTICIPATING AIRCRAFT ARE DETECTED
THAT MAY ENTER THE AFFECTED AREA. OTHER VISUAL EFFECTS MAY
OCCUR AT GREATER DISTANCES. THE DOMESTIC EVENTS NETWORK
/DEN/ AT 202-493-5107 IS THE FAA COORDINATION FACILITY. WIE UNTIL UFN. CREATED:
02 APR 17:29 2012

The area interested by the airborne laser beam on Google Earth

As highlighted by the NOTAM, the laser beam may be injurious to pilots, aircrews and passangers eyes for a distance of 5,000 feet below the experimental aircraft.

Ed Langworthy has discovered that on Saturday Mar. 31, evening an aircraft using radio callsign N420AG “Experimental” was working Boston Center at 10:30PM EDT (0230z). Shortly there after, he switched to the next Boston sector and informed this controller that he was going to be flying around at FL410 for the next hour using a laser. He requested that Boston notify him of any planes coming within 5,000 ft of him. So, the aircraft flying on Mar. 31 was most probably the same that will conduct the test for the next month or so: it is a Bombardier  BD-700 whose flight can be tracked on Flightaware.

Even if according the aircraft involved in the test was eventually identified the purpose of the test remains a mystery and can’t but remind the famous YAL-1, Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB), the modified Boeing 747-400 Freighter that housed two solid-state lasers and a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser that was intended to direct energy to intercept and destroy enemy ballistic missiles.

The ALTB flew for the last time on Feb. 14, 2012.

It’s last ferry flight took the YAL-1A serialled 00-0001/ED from Edwards AFB, California, to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, where the aircraft will be disposed and its associated systems will be kept in storage by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)  at the local “Boneyard”.

Image credit: US Air Force /Photographer: Bobbi Zapka

The ABL was designed to identify, track and intercept enemy ballistic missiles shortly after missile launch, operating at altitudes above the clouds to locate and track missiles in their boost flight phase, and then accurately point and fire the high-energy laser to intercept enemy missiles near their launch areas.

However, funding was cut in 2010 and program was canceled in December 2011, after 16 years of development and 5 million USD of investments because of the technical difficulties and further spending required to make it a workable concept. In fact, although at the beginning of 2010, during tests, the aircraft was able to successful engage and destroy threat-representative ballistic missiles, according to the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a laser up to 30 times more powerful than the chemical laser of the YAL-1 was needed to be able to shoot down an enemy missile in the boost phase from distance.

Even if it’s quite unlikely that a similar project was revived (the intensity of the laser beam emitted by the reportedly BD-700 is rather limited), the testing activities that will be conducted above the US East Coast proves that the use of lasers from airborne platforms still lies ahead.

Salva

About David Cenciotti 3863 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.