Flights of a Lockheed Martin C-130-based Advanced Tactical Laser system are expected to start by mid-September, with Boeing to fire the system at ground targets for the first time by year-end.

The milestones will conclude the goals for a six-year-old advanced concept technology demonstration funded by US special operations forces, and transition the programme to a three-year "extended user evaluation" funded by the US Air Force.

"Given the progress we've made on the ATL programme, we feel that the technology is under control and ready to be demonstrated," says Gary Fitzmire, Boeing vice-president for ATL. "We're within months of that. The next phase is more about the acceptance of the warfighter and helping them envisage how they might use the weapon."

The ATL consists of a single laser module derived from the six-module Airborne Laser system hosted on a Boeing 747-200 demonstrator dubbed the YAL-1. It could be used by an AC-130 gunship to strike targets from a stand-off distance, with the system recycling the exhaust fumes from the chemical reaction to leave no trace of the source of an attack.

The programme achieved first light on 7 August and Boeing has been continuing to check out the system in ground tests at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. The underbelly-mounted laser has so far been fired along a 2km (1nm)-long, covered trench into a calorimeter.

Source: Flight International