Passenger plane with anti-missile system completes first flight

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Monday, July 21, 2008

NEW YORK--The first passenger plane equipped with a system to repel shoulder-fired missiles successfully completed its maiden flight, a British defense and aerospace company announced last week.
The JetEye infrared missile-defense system was tested on an American Airlines flight that took off July 11, according to a statement from BAE Systems.
The plane flew from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport in California, the company said.
The JetEye system works by detecting the heat-seeking missiles and then firing a laser, which diverts the missile.
American Airlines refused to make the system mandatory on all trips but agreed to cooperate with the tests, CNN reported.
The flight represents the final phase of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Counter-Man-Portable Air Defense System program, designed to test the suitability of missile-protection equipment for commercial aircraft.
Previously, the technology was successfully evaluated on an American Airlines test aircraft and an ABX Air Inc. cargo aircraft.
The missile-protection equipment will be installed on two more American Airlines 767-200 aircrafts for daily cross-country flights through March. Engineers will evaluate the system's maintainability and reliability, as well as its suitability for the airline industry. No missiles will be fired at these flights, the news agency said.
"BAE Systems worked closely with DHS and the airline industry to develop an effective response to potential terrorist threats," said Burt Keirstead, JetEye program director for BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H.
Homeland Security officials said in January that there is no specific threat of these weapons being fired at planes.
However, Taliban forces successfully used shoulder-fired missiles against Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan. Terrorists tried in 2002 to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet in Kenya with them.
Insurgents hit a cargo plane in Baghdad the following year, but the plane landed safely.
Experts say that about 500,000 to 700,000 shoulder-fired missile weapons have been produced worldwide, and some have been purchased in Middle Eastern and Central Asian arms markets for as little as $5,000.
Since 2003, Congress has pressured Homeland Security to adapt military anti-MANPADS technology to commercial aviation.
BAE Systems, based in Farnborough, England, works with American Airlines Maintenance and Engineering Services, which provided the test aircraft and engineering services for the development of JetEye.
DHS awarded BAE Systems a $29 million contract in January for this final evaluation phase of the program, which calls for the planes to log about 7,000 flight hours.
Northrop Grumman, a defense company with its own system to protect planes from portable missiles, urged the Defense Department in March to install its system on commercial flights that take soldiers and equipment to war zones.
Jack Pledger, a Northrop Grumman executive, said in March that 27 terrorist groups are believed to possess shoulder-fired weapons, that aircraft are vulnerable to the missiles within 25 miles of airports and that one missile incident could have catastrophic effects on the U.S. economy.
In March, the Northrop system concluded a 14-month test during which anti-missile systems were installed on 11 FedEx cargo planes that flew 4,500 flights, CNN's report said.