Friday, August 1, 2008

Real Lasers

As a bit of a change of pace, I figured I'd talk about real lasers. After all, without real lasers for inspiration we wouldn't have the Mystical Lazer. (I know I never spelled it right, but that's because "z" makes it cool. Everybody knows "z" is the coolest letter in the alphabet.) Now as much as I would like to school you in the ways of real lasers, and as much as I wish I was smart enough to do so, I figured instead I'd tell you about some of the coolest real lasers out there.

Meet THEL. He may look like your common everyday spotlight or bat signal, but in actuality he's a laser. THEL stands for Tactical High Energy Laser, and it was designed by the Israelies and funded by the US. THEL's purpose, other than being the world's first awesome mega laser, is to be used to counter short-range and medium-range threats in combat and provide cover for soldiers. This baby could do a number on your enemies, and probably even melt a tank. It has proven itself in live tests against live mortar shells as well as 28 Katyusha rockets and five artillery shells in flight (that is some serious firepower). Here's a video.

THEL's low cost-per-kill(or hit) of about $3,000 per kill is matched only by its capacity for 60 shots without reloading and, if design goals are met, a nearly 100% probability of a kill at a range of 5 km. Now a mobile version is in the works, about the size of three large semi trailers. The ideal size for THEL's developers, the Northrop Gruman Corporation, is to downsize it to a single semi trailer size.

Fortunately we already kind of have a mobile laser, and this one can fly. The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser uses a COIL or Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser, and was designed to shoot down airborne tactical ballistic missiles. It has succeeded (careful this one's a PDF) in numerous tests in shooting these types of missiles down, even with a low powered version of the laser called the Airborn Laser Laboratory (ALL).

The laser is mounted on the front of the plane, right on the nose cone, and looks reminiscent of the Death Star's planet-destroying laser cannon. It can be rotated to fire in almost any direction, and can fire about 20 to 40 shots. The Boeing 747 was used to house the laser because it needed the room for all of the laser's components; there's not much leg room on this flight, no peanuts or in-flight movie either. Here's a link to a website featuring videos of what it can do and some pictures of it's layout.

Neither of these is the world's most powerful laser, but you've got to admit that they are pretty cool. If they can just find a way to add these on to a giant robot, which they should also be working on, then two of my favorite geek dreams will have come true. The third will be if I get to pilot the robot.

Signing off.

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