Modified 747 Ready For Laser Weapons

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Boeing workers have finished extensive modifications to a 747-400 destined for the U.S. Air Force's Airborne Laser program, The Wichita Eagle reported this week. The 747 will head to Edwards Air Force Base in California next month, where it will be equipped with a high-energy laser system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles just after launch. The laser-equipped aircraft would "loiter" at 40,000 feet, and when the crew received a report of a missile launch, the laser beam could destroy the missile from up to several hundred kilometers away. The weapon works by focusing its high-energy laser beam on the pressurized fuel tank, causing it to rupture and explode. Work began on the 747 about three years ago, and it made its first flight in July. Modifications include a 12,000-pound rotating nose turret, two interior bulkheads, an air-to-air refueling system, extensive rewiring, and reinforced floor beams to support the weight of the laser equipment. The U.S. Air Force plans its first test of the weapon in 2004, and expects to have a fleet of seven laser-equipped aircraft in operation by 2008.