Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft

Worldwide Support of Space and Earth Programs for 35 Years

A-LOTS Aircraft 51-3123

     Airborne Lightweight Optical Tracking System (A-LOTS), built by the Nortronic Division of Northrop Corporation and delivered to the Eastern Test Range in November of 1965, was operationally accepted in December of 1966.

    The A-LOTS system consists of a manual tracking station, a pod that houses an optic sensor and a high-speed 70-millimeter film camera, and a control console. A target visually sighted from a B-50 gun sight through a clear astrodome mounted on top of the aircraft. The camera pod mounted on the cargo door of the plane and slaved to this sighting station. The initial image viewed at the operation console on a closed-circuit television system, which has a coarse field of view. The image is then picked up and tracked either automatically or manually, as viewed on a television monitor in the finer field of view.

    The 70-millimeter photographic camera operates from 10 to 80 frames per second to record such events as they occur like booster cutoff and staging. The camera control panel displays the frame rate and houses the remote shutter control. The remote shutter control allows adjustment of exposure times at these varying frame rates.

    Although designed primarily for use on the Air Force Eastern Test Range (AFETR), the A-LOTS equipped aircraft on occasion called to duty at the Western Test Range. During many launches on the Eastern Test Range and other test ranges, the A-LOTS is considered a prime source of data, particularly during early development launches on various programs.

    Aircraft 55-3123 was later extensively modified by the Air Force weapons Laboratory at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and used in an 11-year experiment to prove a high-energy laser could be operated in an aircraft and employed against airborne targets. The Airborne Laser Lab destroyed five AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and a Navy BQM-34A target drone.

  The aircraft delivered to the National Museum of the Air Force in May 1988 and, until recently, parked across from ARIA 60-0374. Upon viewing the National Museum of the Air Force inventory in 2019, the aircraft is no longer on the inventory list.

Clifford Reeves
Bendix Radio Foundation
Randy L. Losey

Randy L. Losey