A computer-controlled laser test rig (using a CO2 laser) offers an interesting alternative to traditional flame-based thermal gradient rigs in evaluating thermal barrier coatings (TBCs). The temperature gradient between the top and back surfaces of a TBC system can be controlled based on the laser power and a forced air back-face cooling system, enabling the temperature history of complete aircraft missions to be simulated. An air plasma spray (APS) deposited TBC was tested and, based on experimental data available in the literature, the temperature gradients across the TBC system (ZrO2-Y2O3 YSZ top coat / CoNiCrAlY bond coat / Inconel 625 substrate) and their respective frequencies during air-to-air combat missions of fighter jets were replicated. The missions included (i) idle/taxi on the runway, (ii) take-off and climbing, (iii) cruise trajectory to rendezvous zone, (iv) air-to-air combat maneuvering, (v) cruise trajectory back to runway and (vi) idle/taxi after landing. The results show that the TBC thermal gradient experimental data in turbine engines can be replicated in the laser gradient rig, leading to an important tool to better engineer TBCs.