Boeing Rolls Out Special Plane For Star Wars Program
SEATTLE (AP) _ A modified Boeing 767 jetliner that may become part of the Star Wars program will keep a low profile, Boeing officials say, but the monstrous aircraft is going to be hard to keep under wraps.
The plane, with a 70-foot cupola atop its fuselage, was rolled out at Boeing Field earlier this week and is visible from the freeway overlooking the airport south of Seattle.
Dan Pinick, corporate vice president for military, space and electronics business at Boeing Co., said the plane would make its initial flight Friday.
Next year it will fly with an immense optical, heat-detecting sensor inside the cupola that can spot intercontinental ballistic missile warheads, a feature that could make the plane a key part of the Strategic Defense Initiative program.
Critics within Congress and the scientific community say SDI won’t work, but President Reagan and the Pentagon believe the project will provide a shield against enemy ballistic missiles.
Boeing Aerospace Co. will not discuss the project, nor will it allow photos of the plane from Boeing property, spokesman William Rice said Wednesday.
Boeing developed the plane under a $400 million, five-year contract with the Army Strategic Defense Command at Huntsville, Ala. The contract, awarded in 1984, is the largest of five dozen SDI-related contracts at Boeing.
Boeing recently completed modification of the 767 at a hangar at Boeing Field. A sensor that will ride in the unpressurized cupola is undergoing final checks at Hughes Aircraft Co. in Los Angeles, where it was developed for Boeing.
The sensor, about the size of a car, will travel on a rail in the cupola and view the sky through a huge window, a Hughes spokesman said. It will be delivered to Seattle in early 1988.
The plane and sensor, to be flight tested next year and in 1989, will gather data as dummy warheads pass through the sensor’s field and transmit the information to ground-based military facilities.
The dummy ICBMs will be shot from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., into the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll missile range in the Central Pacific.
The infrared sensors can detect the heat of a human body at a distance of more than 1,000 miles against the cold background of space, Boeing has said.
The sensors are expected to be able to discriminate between warheads and debris and decoys generating heat as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
The plane, a medium- to long-range twin jet, was built in 1981 at Boeing’s Everett plant. It was the first 767-200 built by the company and will carry flight crews of 10 to 15.
Pinick said Boeing could eventually build a fleet of such planes if the SDI program proceeds and the Airborne Optical Adjunct project is successful.