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On-board missile-defense system makes first cross-country flight

An on-board laser-based defense system tested for commercial aircraft at Fort Worth Alliance Airport in 2005 has made its first cross-country flight.

An American Airlines 767-200s equipped with the JETEYE system flew from New York John F. Kennedy Airport to Los Angeles Airport on Wednesday.

BAE Systems, which developed JETEYE, announced the completion of the first flight.

In all, three American Airlines 767-200s equipped with the JETEYE system will fly between New York and Los Angeles and New York and San Francisco, American officials said.

The other two aircraft will be ready to start testing later this summer and early fall. The tests run through March 2009.

Integrated into the planes' bellies are electronic sensors that watch for missiles being fired from below. A dime-sized laser emitter mounted on a small turret can then rotate to a target and, if necessary, send out an invisible, infrared burst to disorient a missile's guidance system.

The system was a post-9/11 attempt to shift U.S. military technology into the commercial sector and address concerns that terrorists could use shoulder-fired missiles, also called MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense System), to bring down jetliners.

"We have now entered the third phase of the testing of the counter-MANPADs system on a commercial aircraft," American spokesman John Hotard said. "This is all part of a Department of Homeland Security project to determine the feasibility of equipping commercial aircraft with such a system."

This phase of testing is to determine the maintenance reliability of the system as well as whether the system is "suitable" for revenue service. An early concern was whether or not the system would be subsidized in some way by the federal government, and, if not, whether the airlines could afford the system out of pocket.

Hotard emphasized that there would not be any live testing or simulations during the phase.

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