A Boeing Co.-led team has successfully fired for the first time a powerful laser meant to fly aboard a modified 747 as part of a U.S. ballistic missile defense shield.

The test, dubbed “First Light” by insiders, lasted only a fraction of a second but gave the project an important boost at a time it was deemed at risk of cuts or cancellation.



The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency described the event — carried out on Wednesday in a 747 fuselage on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base in California — as a “landmark achievement” for the Airborne Laser system.



“It showed they work,” Kenneth Englade, an agency spokesman, said of the laser’s six identical, pickup-truck-sized, modules linked to fire as a single unit. “The rest is fine-tuning.”



The Chemical Oxygen Iodine laser is built by Northrop Grumman Corp. It includes breakthrough optics designed to focus a basketball-sized spot of heat on a missile’s skin to rupture it up to hundreds of miles away.



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