Hans Mark will be giving the seminar “The Airborne Laser”

Tuesday, March 13, at 3:30 PM in Guggenheim 218

The Airborne Laser

Hans Mark

University of Texas at Austin


The idea of placing a large high power laser on an aircraft to shoot down ballistic missiles in the boost phase was first suggested by Dr. Edward Teller in 1967.  A study led by Professor Abraham Hertzberg of the University of Washington recommended that an Airborne Laser Laboratory (ALL) be developed using a Boeing KC-135 tanker aircraft as the test bed and using a 500 KW Carbon Dioxide gas-dynamic laser.  General George Brown, Commander of AFSC approved, and the program was Initiated in 1971.  Extensive wind tunnel tests conducted at the NASA Ames Research Center proved the feasibility of the concept and the aircraft was modified.  In May 1983, the ALL destroyed five AIM-9L missiles in flight.  The program proved the concept but was then suspended because no laser of military value existed.  With the advent of the Chemical Oxygen-Iodine Laser (COIL) and adaptive optics, Air Force Chief of Staff Ronald Fogleman revived the program in 1994.  A Boeing  747-400 cargo aircraft was modified to carry a multi-megawatt COIL laser, which was designated the Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser (ABL), and was completed in 2009.  The first “full up” tests were successfully conducted on February 4th and 10th, 2011.  First the ABL aircraft shot down a solid-fueled “Black Brandt” missile, and on the 10th the ABL shot down a liquid fueled “SCUD-B” and acquired another “Black Brandt.”  However, the laser was turned off by a safety device before the missile was destroyed.  The ranges achieved by the COIL laser are classified but are of military interest.  The ABL program was “suspended” in 2011 but the airplane was kept in flight status until December, when the ABL program was cancelled.  It made its final flight on February 14, 2012 to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizone to be prepared and kept in storage at the “Boneyard.”


Biography of Hans Mark

Dr. Hans Mark specializes in the study of spacecraft and aircraft design, electromagnetic rail guns, and national defense policy. He has served on the faculty of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas., Austin, since 1988. Since 2001 he has held the John J. McKetta Centennial Energy Chair in Engineering. He served as Chancellor of The University of Texas System from 1984 to 1992. Previously, he taught at Boston University, MIT, University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Dr. Mark has also served as Director of the NASA-Ames Research Center, Secretary of the Air Force, Deputy Administrator of NASA, and more recently, Director of Defense Research and Engineering at the Pentagon. He has published numerous papers and authored or edited eight books. Dr. Mark is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and an Honorary Fellow of the AIAA. He is the recipient of the 1999 Joe J. King Engineering Achievement Award and the 1999 George E. Haddaway Medal for Achievement in Aviation. In 2006 he received the Military Astronautics Award from the American Astronautical Society. In 2007 he was bestowed the U.S. Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award, and in 2008 he was presented the James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award by the Space Foundation. In addition, Dr. Mark has received six honorary doctorates.


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