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Looks like FedEx won’t be adding lasers to its airplanes

Looks like FedEx won’t be adding lasers to its airplanes

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Hope nobody wants to blow your packages out of the sky

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Photo by BENOIT DOPPAGNE/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

It looks like the FAA may have made a whoopsie. Remember when the US aviation authority suggested that FedEx might possibly potentially maybe be able to stick a laser onto its cargo planes to knock missiles out of the sky? Yeah, no: “further internal study is necessary,” the FAA wrote on Thursday (via Reuters), adding that the proposal “is not moving forward at this time.”

Before you say that of course the FAA wasn’t going to let a private company mount a frickin’ laser beam (sorry, old reference) to their airplanes, you should know that we’re not exactly talking about the kind of high-energy solid state lasers that can literally blast things till they catch fire and/or explode — though the US military has certainly tested those sorts of lasers aboard large aircraft, too.

No, FedEx’s proposal was for a “Infrared Laser Countermeasure System,” a fancy name for what’s effectively a high-power laser pointer (with a sophisticated targeting system) that blinds incoming missiles before they hit. As The Drive explains, the US has been exploring ways to protect airliners from missile strikes for a while now, particularly given the proliferation of cheap shoulder launched surface-to-air missile systems, and those sorts of laser systems looked to be an effective but expensive option.

FedEx even tested out one of the infrared variety, Northrop Grumman’s “Guardian” pods, in 2006. Here’s a close-up of a Northrop Grumman infrared laser pod:

Northrop Grumman’s website claims these systems “protect more than 1,500 aircraft, including large and small fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and tilt-rotor platforms.”
Northrop Grumman’s website claims these systems “protect more than 1,500 aircraft, including large and small fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and tilt-rotor platforms.”
Image: Northrop Grumman

But it doesn’t seem like any US commercial airplanes have installed the tech yet; the FAA’s proposal suggests that FedEx’s addition of a laser would have been “novel or unique.”

It’s not clear whose system FedEx was hoping to attach to its planes when it submitted its proposal in October 2019, why the FAA decided it should move forward this month, or why the FAA decided to suddenly stop it now — but it does seem like your FedEx packages won’t be protected by laser anytime soon.