For those of you fired up about the idea of a laser-blasting 747, a word of advice: relax.Sure, the Airborne Laser, or ABL, managed late last year to achieve "first light" turn on its ray gun. But it's going to be a long time before that laser is loaded onto the plane, and the thing starts flying.ABL, long criticized for busting budgets and cracking deadlines, was supposed to start zapping missiles in 2002. Then it was pushed back to 2005.This week, at a Washington conference on laser weapons, the Missile Defense Agency's Lt. Gus Valez wouldn't even hazard a guess as to when those tests might begin.In the coming year, Lt. Valez said, the Agency would fly the plane, with its beam control and fire control equipment loaded aboard, but turned off to see if the stuff could handle the stress. Then would come test flights with the gear switched on. During this time, on the ground, the laser weapon would continue to have the bugs shaken out of it. Only after all these tasks were completed, Lt. Valez noted, would the arduous process of integrating the laser into the 747 begin.As Lt. Valez spoke, a PowerPoint slide over his right shoulder gave a timeline, with a first ABL in-air blast coming sometime between 2006 and 2009. But when asked to confirm that schedule, he demurred."We're not predicting a date right now," Lt. Valez answered.
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