WICHITA, Kansas, August 21 -- Boeing Co. has nearly finished modifying a 747-400 freighter to carry the world's first airborne laser, the Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday. The aircraft is scheduled to leave Kansas later this year and to be equipped with the futuristic weapon, an Air Force official told the AP.
Air Force officials unveiled the prototype at Boeing's Wichita modification site. The prototype is projected to cost $1.7 billion by the time the aircraft is finished and testing is completed in 2005. In 1996, the Air Force awarded a $1.1 billion contract to Boeing, TRW and Lockheed Martin to begin work on a prototype that would detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles.
The plane could be ready for flight testing by 2004, according to the AP article.
The aircraft made its first flight in July. It will now be turned over to Edwards Air Force Base in California where the laser weapon system will be installed, according to an official quoted in the article. The airborne laser is among several laser technologies the Bush administration is developing in pursuit of a missile defense system. Air Force officials have said the Pentagon plans to build seven modified 747s equipped with an airborne laser, the AP said.