The United States military, in conjunction with Boeing, have successfully fired their Airborne Laser – moving a step closer to demonstrating how a hostile missile can be taken out in flight from a plane.

The Airborne Laser Project – a joint project between Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin is a powerful military grade chemical laser mounted on a modified Boeing 747.

In something that could have come straight from the pages of a science fiction book, the system is designed to autonomously detect missiles and shoot them down in the boost phase of flight.

Key milestone

The test saw the laser fired in flight from the Boeing 747-400f out of Edwards Air Force base in California, and has been described as a key milestone.

"The achievement of 'first light' onboard the Airborne Laser aircraft is a key milestone for the ABL team," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems.

"The team did an extraordinary job preparing ABL for this important test. The program remains on track to reach the missile shoot-down demonstration planned for 2009."