MOJAVE – A Northrop Grumman-led team on Wednesday unveiled a jetliner fitted with a prototype laser device that could be used soon to protect passenger jets from terrorist missile attacks. Built under a $45 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security, the system called “Guardian” was shown off to the news media at Mojave Airport, where initial flight tests are wrapping up on the modified Federal Express MD-11 jetliner. “This program is not about proving the technology. It’s about making it commercially viable,” said John Stanfill, Northrop Grumman’s director of infrared countermeasures commercial programs. Similar technology has been in use by the military since 2000. However, there are a number of challenges to making the system practical for commercial airlines, including reducing maintenance. Military systems require maintenance after a few hours of flying, something that is not practical in a commercial operation, officials said. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Mounted in a pod on the jet’s belly are four sensors that can detect an approaching missile. An infrared camera tracks the approaching missile, and a laser signal is beamed at the missile to confuse its heat-seeking guidance system and decoy it away from the jetliner. “We introduce a guidance signal that rapidly turns the missile away,” said Jack Pledger, Northrop Grumman’s director of business development for infrared countermeasure. The system is being developed under a Department of Homeland Security effort to find ways to protect jets from shoulder-launched missiles that the federal government says have been acquired by at least 27 terrorist groups. The department wants to create a system that would cost under $1 million an aircraft. Interest in pursuing a protective system surged after a November 2002 attack against an Israeli jetliner, in which two shoulder-launched missiles were fired as it was taking off from an airport in Kenya. That aircraft escaped serious damage. About a year later, a cargo jetliner was damaged by a missile while taking off from an airport in Baghdad. The Northrop Grumman-led team, which includes Federal Express and Northwest Airlines, is one of two teams awarded $45 million contracts by the Department of Homeland Security to develop prototypes. The other team is led by BAE Systems, which is planning to conduct its first flight test today in Fort Worth, Texas. The MD-11 recently completed airworthiness certification, meaning it is safe to fly with the pod modifications. The aircraft will be flown in a few days to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for tests into how well the system works against missile threats. A second aircraft, a Boeing 747, will be outfitted with the equipment and will fly in early 2006. Initial flight testing will likely occur in Mojave, program officials said. Congress has allocated $110 million to continue the program. The next phase will see the technology placed onto a handful of actual commercial jetliners. “We want to look at ‘real world’ issues,” Stanfill said. “We want to turn it over to the real users to see how they like it.” In addition to detecting threats and protecting the aircraft, the system will also notify authorities on the ground that a missile has been fired. The system has automated monitoring systems to aid in maintenance. “This system is like ‘E.T.’ – it phones home once a day on its health status,” Stanfill said. Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!