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Laser Incidents With Aircraft On the Rise

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the plays-better-with-cats dept.

Australia 546

EqualSlash writes "High-power laser pointers available for cheap are increasingly finding abuse as the ultimate long-distance weapons of pranksters and vandals. The Federal Aviation Administration says laser events aimed on planes have nearly doubled in the last year, leaping from 1,527 in 2009 to 2,836 in 2010. The highest number of incidents was reported at Los Angeles International Airport, which recorded 102 in 2010. Lasers pointed at cockpits can temporarily blind pilots, forcing them to give up control of an aircraft to their co-pilot or abort a take-off/landing. In March of 2008, unidentified individuals wielding four green laser pointers launched a coordinated attack on six incoming planes at Sydney Airport, which resulted in a ban on all laser pointers in the state of New South Wales."

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How do you hit the cockpit? (2, Insightful)

Nikker (749551) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969024)

How do you manage getting a beam of light inside a cockpit that opens facing upward? Aside from banking sharply it doesn't make any sense.

Re:How do you hit the cockpit? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969072)

The pilots must be able to see the ground for landing and must be able to look down for traffic avoidance--if they can see the ground, someone on the ground can blast them in the eye with a laser. You are right though--someone directly below would have a hard time shining the laser into most cockpits and must be some horizontal distance away.

Re:How do you hit the cockpit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969432)

You've never been in a cockpit, or used X-Plane or some other flight simulator, have you? You can't see the ground very well from a passenger jet, especially on approach where the plane is either pointing straight ahead or flaring. To shine a laser pointer into pilots' eyes the angle would be more horizontal than vertical. (Unless they're using reflection or refraction.) Not impossible, but difficult. These people must be very dedicated and nefarious. They deserve significant punishment if caught.

Re:How do you hit the cockpit? (4, Interesting)

dave562 (969951) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969222)

I can only speak to the approach into LAX, because that is the only major international airport that I have seen on a regular basis (unless you count PDX, but that is more regional). There are plenty of 4-5 story parking garages along the 405 as the planes are nearly down on final approach. A person could probably get another 5 feet of elevation for standing on top of a vehicle, maybe 6-7 feet if you find a big lifted monster truck or cargo van. All in total that is about 55 feet of elevation.

The flight paths on those planes is completely predictable. It would be fairly easy to get into the cockpit of some of those planes. A person would probably need a aim a few miles out. Once they were near the garage, the angle would be too extreme given the height of the cockpit.

How much energy would be needed to create a distracting level of laser light into the cockpit of a jumbo jet that is 5-10 miles away?

Re:How do you hit the cockpit? (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969492)

Depends on the optics and the weather, I would suspect.

On a clear day, with excellent optics, probably surprisingly little(In Lunar laser rangefinding experiments, the laser spreads from being a near-point-source to a mere 4 mile diameter spot across ~240,000 miles). Your not-at-all-pricey 250-500mW DPSS greens would probably do just fine, if you could keep them stable and on target.

If your optics are shit, or there is fog/dust/substantial thermal shimmer, requirements would go up markedly...

Re:How do you hit the cockpit? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969446)

It is possible, but much more fun to do to helicopters.

With a 200mW laser attached to a 10x50 binocs you can point pretty well, and see the pilot making funny faces too.

sad thing is ... (3, Insightful)

markjhood2003 (779923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969028)

They'll probably green lasers in the US before they'll ban semi-automatic handguns.

Re:sad thing is ... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969038)

No joke, once they green the lasers it's all over.

Re:sad thing is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969596)

and then they'll accidentally 93MB of RAR files.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

oldmeddler (1614805) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969066)

And exactly what is sad about that?

Banning things has never worked and never will.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

Kitkoan (1719118) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969094)

Thats whats sad about it. They will just add it to the list of non-violent objects banned even though it won't work nor has ever worked. And people around will still be allowed to carry dangerous weapons like semi-automatic handguns around airports which can be very dangerous.

Re:sad thing is ... (1, Insightful)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969144)

A handgun has precious little chance of knocking down an airliner from the ground.

And cars are much more dangerous weapons than handguns.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969240)

And when has a laser pointer ever knocked down an airliner?

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

stms (1132653) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969276)

Since when are handguns allowed in airports? I mean besides Law Enforcement and Air Marshals. I'm assuming your not so stupid as to argue against them carrying guns.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969510)

There is a Federal program that allows armed air crew - Federal Flight Deck Officers.

Plus in places like Oregon it's technically legal to have a handgun on you up to where TSA screening takes place, although the Port of Portland doesn't agree, there are lawsuits about it.

Re:sad thing is ... (4, Interesting)

AB3A (192265) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969580)

A properly unloaded firearm in a locked case is permitted in an airport. The baggage is checked separately and tagged so that TSA knows it is there. Yes, this includes a handgun. It may seem counter-intuitive to those have never been in uninhabited areas, but a large caliber handgun is useful in case you are caught by surprise by wolves, boar, or bear. My cousin used to go on Salmon fishing trips in Alaska, and he always carried a .44 with him just in case he had to take down a bear. As far as I know, he never had to use it outside of the gun range, but better safe than sorry.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

markjhood2003 (779923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969086)

They'll probably green lasers in the US before they'll ban semi-automatic handguns.

Rats. ban green lasers, not green them.

Re:sad thing is ... (2)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969104)

If you outlaw laser pointers, only outlaws will have laser pointers.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969622)

Hmm... ponderponder... who is usually using laser pointers...

Consultants and other vendors of snakeoil who want to look snappy when they present their new trapezoid scheme...

Too late, we're already there.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969108)

Semi-automatic handguns have much shorter ranges.

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969118)

And already have laws covering ownership and carrying.

Re:sad thing is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969120)

How exactly is that sad? I'd say each are just as menacing in the right hands wouldn't you? No of course you wouldn't, you've already made your stance clear. Truth be told, it wouldn't matter. If someone wanted to point a laser at a pilot they would and believe it or not, this includes whether or not said laser was *gasp* banned!

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969208)

Most modern aircraft can very nearly land themselves, so no, I would *not* say that a low power laser pointer is as dangerous as a handgun, even taking into account this unusual edge case....

Re:sad thing is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969246)

Define modern.. if you mean most aircraft that actually fly on a regular basis, then 'some' modern aircraft can land themselves.. 'Most' cannot..

'Most' modern cars have reverse radars on them and can auto-parallel park, but they aren't on 99% of America's driveways, and even if you had one, you'd still look over your shoulder while reversing.

Re:sad thing is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969372)

Guns and lasers can both be deadly. They won't ban either because the American macho loves his toys. They should ban the lasers for light pollution alone.

Re:sad thing is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969506)

No, they should ban Stadium lighting for light pollution.

Re:sad thing is ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969620)

Go fuck yourself. This American macho would put his foot up your ass if you said that to his face.

My guess is that there's already been a couple of American machos that's done this to you already.

U mad?

Re:sad thing is ... (1)

jbell730 (1586063) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969486)

Just wait until they accidentally green lasers.

Can somebody, pls find all the idiots involved (3, Insightful)

Bake (2609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969034)

and just beat the shit out of them for being well on their way towards having those fun laser pointers banned completely?

Re:Can somebody, pls find all the idiots involved (4, Informative)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969228)

Actually the penalty for that is less than a beating.

It is charged as interfering with a flight crew [nwsource.com] and does not carry much of a penalty.

Catching the culprits is difficult, unless someone happens to see who did it, its just not likely to happen. By the time you mobilize resources they just put it in their pocket and walk away.

     

Re:Can somebody, pls find all the idiots involved (5, Interesting)

definate (876684) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969584)

In Australia we ban just about anything at the drop of the hat. As such, their first reaction was to ban all laser pointers which could be used for this. It's now illegal to have them, similarly illegal as firearms, mase, battons, knives, etc.

So that was their first line of dealing with it. Make it illegal to have them, then you just need to find it in their house/car/clothes, and you can arrest them for possession.

This is just explaining how they make it easy to catch and prosecute these people. I don't agree with this, as this logic gets extrapolated quite easily. Eg, Want to get rid of bikies? Just ban motorcycle enthusiast groups [yahoo.com] . Want to stop people reading some book, playing some game [wikipedia.org] , or watching some movie [wikipedia.org] ? Just make ratings required, and refuse to classify anything you don't like.

Re:Can somebody, pls find all the idiots involved (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969616)

It's possible a fine (check Title 18 of the U.S.C. for details) and/or imprisonment of up to 20 years, unless a dangerous weapon was used, then imprisonment can be up to life. So, is the green laser considered a dangerous weapon?

Re:Can somebody, pls find all the idiots involved (2)

mysidia (191772) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969600)

and just beat the shit out of them for being well on their way towards having those fun laser pointers banned completely?

Even that won't stop these idiots, because they already possess the laser pointers, and they won't magically vanish from their possession just because a ban is passed.

No! Lasers don't blind pilots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969046)

People blind pilots.... using lasers.

- Citizens for Responsible Airport Laws

I'll say it. (5, Funny)

Kid Zero (4866) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969060)

This is why we can't have nice things. Someone always has to be irresponsible.

Re:I'll say it. (2)

crusty_architect (642208) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969334)

Yep, thats true. I live in NSW and I have actually hidden my lovely green laser pointer away.....

Re:I'll say it. (4, Funny)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969494)

Yes, but your wife is now complaining she can see a green glow in your scrotum.

I've had it.. (1, Funny)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969100)

...with these **********ing lasers on this **********ing plane!

Re:I've had it.. (3, Insightful)

El_Oscuro (1022477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969270)

You must be new here. You can cuss as much as you want here:

"I've had it... with these fucking lasers on this fucking plane!"

Re:I've had it.. (5, Informative)

squiggly12 (1298191) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969476)

I believe that should be "I've had it... with these motherfucking lasers on this motherfucking plane!"

Re:I've had it.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969556)

Eww, for some reason I had the sudden urge to see some Rule 34 of a "motherfucking plane".

Re:I've had it.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969626)

That's one monstrously huge dildo. Hopefully your mother is a 200ft tall Gaia.

Re:I've had it.. (1)

paul248 (536459) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969542)

You forgot "mother". Incidentally, I'm telling her you said a bad word.

Laser-line Rejection Filter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969128)

Lasers are made in a great many colors, but couldn't they notch-filter the predominant linewidths (esp. those attenuated least in the atmosphere)?

Laser Filters? (0)

DragonDru (984185) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969134)

Can't we just put laser filters on the cockpit windows (or have the pilots wear laser safety glasses)? Maybe we can't filter *every* color laser (that may block too much normal light), but we could filter the green ones which the article mentions as the more troublesome type.

Re:Laser Filters? (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969160)

Unfortunatly the human eye sees green as the brightest colour. If you're putting filters on the pilot's eyes, he'll be seeing less at night, or in foggy conditions or something similar.

How about a camera to outside instead?

Re:Laser Filters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969218)

Laser pointers emit a very specific wavelength of green. You could in theory filter a narrow range and let the rest of the green go through.

Re:Laser Filters? (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969282)

They *TRY* to emit a specific wavelength, but after time and use, that wavelength shifts, and that specific filter becomes useless.

Re:Laser Filters? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969268)

How about a camera to outside instead?

You think a pilot is easy to blind.... Though I suppose they could always fall back on the windows if someone did.

Re:Laser Filters? (3, Funny)

paul248 (536459) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969558)

If all you need is a backup set of optics, just make the pilots wear an eyepatch.

Re:Laser Filters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969606)

AC to preserve moderation (think it will work, not certain, apologies if not.)

Brilliant! Simply Brilliant! I couldn't find that in the moderation list though. Where is the "funny enough to bring a tear to my eye" moderation?

Re:Laser Filters? (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969612)

Unfortunatly the human eye sees green as the brightest colour. If you're putting filters on the pilot's eyes, he'll be seeing less at night, or in foggy conditions or something similar.

In foggy conditions, the pilot does not need to wear this protection, as fog attenuates laser light.

Re:Laser Filters? (1)

Smirker (695167) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969190)

Ah yes, let's filter light from getting into the cockpit. A-grade idea there!

Re:Laser Filters? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969286)

Either that or have LDC video screens in the cocpit as backup.

But cockpits are complex enough already and retro fit would be extremely expensive.

Automated Landing Systems might make more sense, since these would be also be useful in other situations. Fully automated landings are permitted in Europe, but I don't think they are in the US.

In most cases no serious damage is done, and the worst case todate has been the need for a go around. That may not last forever.

So, the biggest threat to airline travel .... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969138)

So, the biggest threat to airline travel is prankster laser pointer wielding yocals and not some loon putting explosives on a plane or hijacking it?!?

Remember that when you're taking your shoes off, having your personal items picked through and groped by the TSA.

Re:So, the biggest threat to airline travel .... (5, Interesting)

warrigal (780670) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969202)

I doubt the problem is really pranksters.
There has been a campaign for decades to close or at least move Sydney airport. It sits in an inner-city suburb that predates the airport.
Every election sees both federal and state governments promising to do something about it.
Spend some time in a suburb like Rockdale and you'll have to get used to large aircraft passing at chimney height all day and most of the night. At other airports with similar problems aircraft have been found with bullet holes in them. So I think the laser crew are being most restrained.

Re:So, the biggest threat to airline travel .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969220)

Saying that this IS a threat does not eliminate or reduce other threads. As a matter of fact, the release does not say that this particular matter is the biggest one to aircraft. It merely describes what is a serious safety issue.

Would you rather they only concentrate on one problem at a time for some reason?

Accidental? (3, Insightful)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969180)

Green lasers are often used for stargazing, since you can use the visible beam to point out specific stars. I wonder how many of these incidents are accidental hits either by idiots^W people who don't know the difference between a plane and a shooting star or who are honestly pointing out constellations while a plane just happens to fly through? Don't attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity and all that.

Re:Accidental? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969264)

Yes, that's right... People accidentally aimed lasers into the pupils of pilots when the planes were far enough out that the pointer-holder couldn't tell the difference between a plane and a star.

Learn some geometry and fucking get real.

Re:Accidental? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969348)

I'm sorry but what exactly do shapes have to do with this?

Re:Accidental? (4, Insightful)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969308)

You don't go near airports to watch the stars.

Re:Accidental? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969566)

Or anywhere in Los Angeles, for that matter.

Re:Accidental? (1)

Suddenly_Dead (656421) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969508)

I assume you're not stargazing right beside an airport, so the planes are going to be at a pretty good altitude. How are you going to hit the cockpit?

Re:Accidental? (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969522)

Why would you be stargazing in an area with some of the worst light pollution? Airports are pretty goddamned lit up you know.

Re:Accidental? (5, Interesting)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969588)

I own a 100mw green laser pointer -- the rare times I end up showing it to people, all of them aim it out into the distance to hit some target -- usually a tree or phone pole. I quickly noticed about 1/4th of them would aim it at a helicopter or airplane. It's not malice -- it's stupidity. Now after telling people the dangers of pointing it at living things or reflective objects, I have to tell them not to point it at flying shit too.

The chances of someone having a steady enough hand to hit a plane are slim. Being able to keep it on the plane for any significant amount of time to blind someone is even slimmer. The beam is around 4-8mm wide at 3 miles distance on an expensive laser pointer. I don't know if it would have enough power at that distance to blind or even annoy. But hey -- there is plenty of shit on the ground to point at, so I don't really care to test it.

Only pilots who are pussies (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969198)

Lasers pointed at cockpits can temporarily blind pilots

      Please cite examples of pilots who have temporarily been "blinded" by a laser.

While it's a nuisance to see someone shine a laser beam around your cockpit, the plane's speed, the shakiness of human hands, and the distance from the person pointing it makes it unlikely that the laser beam will find its way directly into one of the two pupils a pilot may have for more than a fraction of a second.

But America has given up on things like trigonometry, math and science, in favor of bullshit like this. The current situation is 1) Pilot and copilot see red dot jump momentarily around the cockpit and decide to report the incident, 2) Pilot and copilot agree to overstate the harm done to them in an effort to persuade authorities that this is a "serious problem" 3) The media gets hold of the story and distorts it further, screaming for the death penalty for anyone who owns a laser pointer and lives within 10 miles of an airport. But no one is willing to do the math.

Yeah it's irresponsible to point lasers at airplanes. Call me if ever there's a serious incident that puts an aircraft in danger.

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (5, Interesting)

MavEtJu (241979) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969272)

This issue doesn't need to be that it reaches the pilot's eye(s), when the beam reaches the window and it "scatters" the beam giving it a bright area through which you can't see.

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (2)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969310)

OK I'll accept your point. But you would need some pretty expensive equipment to keep the beam steady, correct for the speed and altitude change of the aircraft if it's on glideslope, and make sure your beam is steady over the spot that exactly lines up between the pilot's eyes and the runway.

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969420)

The threat is very real my friend for I have invented just such a machine!

It targets and fires green lasers at incoming aircraft with deadly precision. Since the units charge via solar power I have been able to deploy hundreds of thousands of these units across the country side. I demand you bow down before your new master and I will allow your puny aircraft to fly once more!

Incidentally, coming this summer I will release sharks with freakin laser beams to haunt those troubling international flights.

-Bill Jobs The Mad Scientist

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (0)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969586)

-Bill Jobs The Mad Scientist

Steve, try to pick a better name for your crazy and just as evil alter ego.

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969414)

The bigger the area, the quadratically lower the brightness, am I right?

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969504)

Brightness is not related to the beam diameter, oddly enough. Intensity is though.

Says the guy with no flying experience... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969336)

Actually, it's a lot more complicated than that.

Near my international airport (KSEA for those interested) is a public park on the north end of the airport, from there it is a ridiculously easy shoot into the cockpit with a laser at around 3 miles when aircraft are landing to the north (runways 34). At that range most green lasers beams are actually fairly wide, but still plenty bright, especially to eyes that have spent the last 6 hours acclimated to almost total darkness (pilots routinely turn the lights down at night) Since you bring up geometry, I submit to you that the angle from ground to cockpit at that distance is probably in the 10 degree range. And consider that these aircraft are landing from the south, facing north. The pilot is required to maintain contact with the runway lighting system at all times, including the lights leading up to the runway. If they can see lights 1/2 mile ahead of them, I think they can see the lights 3 miles ahead of them. If you'd like i'll get out my FAR/AIM (FAA rule bible) and quote you the regs.

Now, lets talk the pussies argument. Would you want YOUR pilot to be even 1/4 blinded when operating at 175mph and 300 feet off the ground? Safety says you go around and let your eyes reacclimate. It's not that they could NEVER land the plane, but that given the other stressors already in place, why would you risk it? Remember we are in the plane with you, and we have just as much interest in going home to our families as you do.

My credentials: Commerial rated, Multi-engine and Single-engine, with an unrestricted IFR rating.

Posting AC due to lack of account, long time reader.

Re:Says the guy with no flying experience... (2, Informative)

koolfy (1213316) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969386)

This is very very insightful and deserves to be read. I'll quote it to be sure people see it. (I don't have mod points)

Actually, it's a lot more complicated than that.

Near my international airport (KSEA for those interested) is a public park on the north end of the airport, from there it is a ridiculously easy shoot into the cockpit with a laser at around 3 miles when aircraft are landing to the north (runways 34). At that range most green lasers beams are actually fairly wide, but still plenty bright, especially to eyes that have spent the last 6 hours acclimated to almost total darkness (pilots routinely turn the lights down at night) Since you bring up geometry, I submit to you that the angle from ground to cockpit at that distance is probably in the 10 degree range. And consider that these aircraft are landing from the south, facing north. The pilot is required to maintain contact with the runway lighting system at all times, including the lights leading up to the runway. If they can see lights 1/2 mile ahead of them, I think they can see the lights 3 miles ahead of them. If you'd like i'll get out my FAR/AIM (FAA rule bible) and quote you the regs.

Now, lets talk the pussies argument. Would you want YOUR pilot to be even 1/4 blinded when operating at 175mph and 300 feet off the ground? Safety says you go around and let your eyes reacclimate. It's not that they could NEVER land the plane, but that given the other stressors already in place, why would you risk it? Remember we are in the plane with you, and we have just as much interest in going home to our families as you do.

My credentials: Commerial rated, Multi-engine and Single-engine, with an unrestricted IFR rating.

Posting AC due to lack of account, long time reader.

Re:Says the guy with no flying experience... (3, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969482)

No, I would rather live in a world where people behaved responsibly. Sadly that is impossible.

I accept your argument, and I accept that night vision can be diminished by even a brief flash of light at night. I'm too lazy to calculate the energy density of a "wide", poorly collimated laser beam at 3 miles, however considering that these beams are usually powered by 5/1000ths of a watt or so, it's not a lot of energy to start with (the sun puts out around 24 times much energy per square centimeter). It's far less than 5 mW if you're not getting the whole "beam". I suspect that the impact on night vision is not much greater than looking at the instruments (which also emit light in a dark cockpit, and have to be checked quite often as you know).

Rather than destroying vision I would claim that the biggest problem is surprise, and the chance of momentarily over-reacting or losing situational awareness because of that surprise. I agree that a pilot is quite busy during take off and landing, especially in weather and traffic, and anything unexpected is not good at all.

What I hate, however, is an argument brought to the table for the wrong reasons. I hate to think of laser pointers being controlled or outlawed because of a handful of idiots since they do have their uses besides entertaining pets. The blurb said that there are well over 2000 incidents per year. I would point out that despite this, there has not been a single accident. So I do not condone taking people who point lasers at planes and burning them at the stake or, as is likely, charging them with PAX # counts of attempted murder, to be served consecutively.

  I still challenge that lost eyesight is the least of a pilot's worries, but this is the argument that is put forward. The pussies comment was a generalization based upon my opinion of a particular event in the news, because a flight crew came across as especially whiny and were threatening to sue the whole world because of this.

Should be on mythbusters (2)

shovas (1605685) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969396)

I have to agree. I've heard reports of this for a long time but how is this even possible? Scattering on the windows? They're pointed upwards as well from what I've seen of big planes. Maybe they're talking about small aircraft. I just can't see 1500 incidences a year, though. Maybe the pilots are confusing the phenomena with something else.

This should be on an episode of mythbusters.

Re:Should be on mythbusters (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969458)

I just can't see 1500 incidences a year, though.

If I shine a laser every night at a plane, then I created 365 or so incidents. If I do so at 4 different airports each night, then I created almost 1500 right there.

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969406)

Add to it possible commercial interest in having additional equipment installed on all planes by law.

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969544)

While it's a nuisance to see someone shine a laser beam around your cockpit, the plane's speed, the shakiness of human hands, and the distance from the person pointing it makes it unlikely that the laser beam will find its way directly into one of the two pupils a pilot may have for more than a fraction of a second.

Moreso than that. The average consumer laser's columnating lens is much lower quality than scientific grade. My pointers have some serious expansion and scatter. At about a block the green dot that used to be 1/8" wide and sharply defined at a few feet away is about the size of a beachball. (the central dot, the scatter will be well over dumpster size)

So there is quite a bit of spread for most laser pointers. I don't think it poses anywhere near the usual safety issue of flat out getting permanent blind spots. The issue I think is the "dazzle" effect. Basically that when light like that hits you, even if spread out quite a bit, it temporarily messes with your vision, blinds you in that direction for a short period of time. And they are really good at catching your attention for some reason, you tend to look straight at them when they first come into your view off to the side even, before you can consciously stop yourself. And that puts a temporary blind spot right in your central vision.

Also, people keep talking about the distance issue trying to get a little green dot into a window. It doesn't work that way. These dots are very large at distance. I'd say about 1/2 mile or less is optimal distance, and you're going to be lighting up the entire front of the plane with your pointer. Given it will be hard to keep it right there, but it's not going to be impossible by any stretch.

At that distance, are you're going to sweep the nose of the plane several times, not being able to hold your aim exactly on target. If a pilot gets his attention caught by one sweep, and is looking in that direction by the time the second sweep glances the plane, it could create a minor hazard for them. The only way this is going to be serious is if the laser is coming from straight ahead of them, where they have to keep their eyes pointed to watch their approach. Lasers coming in from the sides can be largely ignored. And if they're coming in from the front, they're at the airport near the runway and the airport security should be able to deal with that.

But all of that being said, I think it's people over-reactng. It's about as dangerous as standing on the side of the highway and throwing a snowball at a car as it drives past. Some people will freak out and dial 911 and others will just flip you off. The danger is about the same. So are we going to ban snowballs too? It's just sensationalism.

Re:Only pilots who are pussies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969548)

They're not talking about the itty bitty red laser pointers used for presentations and entertaining cats. They referenced green lasers which have considerably more power and distance to them. Here is an example of a 200mw high power green laser during the night. These are easily available to anyone over the internet and even go as high as 1000 mw of output. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLyxiOVIC0s [youtube.com]

This can blind, and it can easily reach miles away. If the laser hits something and scatters, it brightly lights up an entire room. A pilot flying the redeye won't be prepared for a powerful flash of light like that. He would've been sitting in a dark, dimly light cockpit for hours. Of course he'd be blinded by it.

Perhaps you should check facts, yes?

A dot?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969552)

You think that after traveling a mile or more, a laser beam projects a "dot"? WTF?

Banned: the new illegal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969214)

The "ban on lasers" is a confusing one.

The last decade the Australian Government has been using this "ban" word like a fad on everything. Its not illegal, its not prohibited... its BANNED.

I'm still trying to figure out what they mean, maybe someone cant have one near an airport or any teenager cant have one but a professor using one for presentation or someone pointing out star constellations is allowed to?

It just seems like a grey area so they make a ban instead of outright illegal.

I went out and purchased a green laser from the USA just before this ban got set in place simply as a middle finger to the Aussie Government. Going out into the middle of nowhere hours from any city and having a light show on a clear night making out you have a lightsaber is cool. Also you can do some great photography with them such as reflecting off water.

Pointing at planes is stupid, do some work and catch the idiots instead of being lazy and making everyone not have a choice.

I've been illuminated... (5, Informative)

trygstad (815846) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969254)

...by a laser while piloting a helicopter and it's scary as hell. I don't have a solution but I sure wish I did. There are some sick puppies out there that this continues to go on. These people should be arrested and prosecuted but I recognize that it's difficult to impossible to catch these idiots.

Re:I've been illuminated... (4, Interesting)

shovas (1605685) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969408)

Many people, including myself, don't understand what you're seeing. The small size of lasers, the distance between the points, shakiness of human hands, etc., How is it even possible for more than a split second? Could you be confusing it with something else?

Re:I've been illuminated... (4, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969532)

It spreads a fair amount over long ranges, and it scatters considerably when it hits the cockpit glass and when your eyes are acclimatised to the dark it is relatively very bright. It's not so much that it gets directly into your eyes, more that it changes the conditions in the cockpit at a time when you are concentrating and things that are out of the ordinary are immediately tagged by the brain as potential issues that you might have to deal with

Re:I've been illuminated... (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969614)

The laser spreads out with distance. By the time it hits the helicopter it's wider than just a tiny dot. Also, green lasers can set stuff on fire up close (any slashdot reader should have seen articles about this), so of course it's dangerous to take that in the eye even far away. Finally, here are some links to show that even freehand, people can aim successfully: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0ttcyIJPm4 [youtube.com] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKTGynLQz-s [youtube.com] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUpmLbkzyEI [youtube.com]

What the what? (0, Redundant)

LoudMusic (199347) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969304)

How are people able to accurately point a laser at a dude's eyeball in an aircraft moving over 100 mph from a relevant angle of attack through the aircraft's windshield from an unrestricted vantage point? From BELOW the aircraft?

This sounds like a crap story to me.

Re:What the what? (1)

Peeteriz (821290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969326)

The same way as monkeys can pound out sentences on typewriters - sit and smoke weed for a couple of hours, 'painting' every plane that's landing, and you're bound to succeed in blinding a couple of them.

Re:What the what? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969350)

Unless the window has been replaced within about the last 20 minutes, it will likely have enough tiny scratches and little bits of crud and whatnot on it that just hitting the window will cause a large portion of it to light up a delightful bright green. Still not trivial; but you don't need to hit the eyeball, just the window.

That said, if people are that freaked out about it, they could just have the co-pilot wear a $30 pair of laser-safety glasses on approach, and take over if the pilot gets dazzled.

Longer term, it would be relatively inexpensive(in the grand scheme of passenger aircraft avionics) to equip the pilots with multiple screens showing feeds from cameras scattered strategically around the outside of the aircraft. Good luck blinding 6-8 camera lenses scattered around a 747's body without equipment so costly that you could save money by using a black-market Stinger(or equivalent) instead...

Ban them anyway. (1)

toby (759) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969346)

They're an annoyance everywhere they're used.

Damn sharks... (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969364)

... don't they have anything better to do, like eat some surfers? And just who gave them the lasers in the first place? Damn Pentagon!

OK i'll say it.. (1)

mygodineedausername (1967592) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969376)

Ok i'll say it are they mounted to sharks?

Transposed Conditionals (5, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969404)

This is an example of the "fallacy of the transposed conditional" and how people use it to justify legislation that does nothing to address the problem.

See if you can assign a likelihood (high or low) to the following:

Probability that someone has a laser, given that they shined one at an airplane,
Probability that someone shines one at an airplane, given that they have a laser.

The likelihood that anyone having a laser will use it against an airplane is so astronomically small that legislation will have no appreciable effect, but will inconvenience many people.

The logic is precisely backwards, but it sounds like a justification.

Someone should introduce the legislators down under to Bayes Theorem.

It's still a big problem in Sydney (1)

crusty_architect (642208) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969418)

This still seems to be happening a lot around Sydney. I noticed that it made it into YSSY ATIS last Thursday night. Approach: EXP INDEPENDENT VISUAL APCH Runway: 34L AND R FOR ARRS AND DEPS Operational Info: PARALLEL RWY OPS IN PROG. INDEPENDENT DEPARTURES IN PROG WIND: 030/15, CROSSWIND MAX 15 KNOTS UNAUTHORISED LASER ACTIVITY REPORTED 07NM ON FINAL Cloud: CAVOK - (Ceiling and Visibility OK) Temperature: 29 QNH: 1010

payback's a bitch (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969454)

put a kW class laser on the planes and fire back

Banned in Australia (1)

tumutbound (549414) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969456)

It's not just NSW that have banned laser pointers, a laser pointer over 1mw is a banned import into Australia. If you import one, it will be seized by Customs. To legally import one, you must get a firearms license issued by the police in your state of residence. It's against the law in most states (Queensland seem to be the exception) to be in possession of a laser pointer, of any colour, in a public place.

Re:Banned in Australia (1)

NewtonsLaw (409638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969602)

Wow, Australia must be one of the most (over) regulated nations on the planet these days.

It seems that as soon as *anyone* mis-uses something, they have a kneejerk reaction that results in bans.

Semi-automatic rifles, handguns, laser-pointers, bottled water in universities, plastic bags, etc, etc. The list is already long and looks as if it's going to be endless.

Come on Aussies -- stand up and fight for your rights!

Wouldn't the pilot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34969460)

be able to land with the remaining eye?

close but it's all I got (3, Interesting)

bakamorgan (1854434) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969536)

There was a video on youtube from a news channel that showed what happend when a green laser hit the cockput of a plane/helio but I can't seem to find it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r5-bMstX6g [youtube.com] This is about all I can find. Anyways its not so much the fact that it goes into the pilots eye, it's just that illuminates the cockpit like a disco which then doesn't allow the person to see out side the window.

Well, Nature does this to pilots too... (1)

Gavin Scott (15916) | more than 3 years ago | (#34969608)

It's called lightning and it has been a "temporary blindness" risk that pilots have always been required to contend with.

Of course you're probably more alert the the possibility of lightning when flying near thunderstorms than you will be expecting a laser out of nowhere.

I do tend to believe that the risks are potentially overblown here, based on just how fast laser beams spread and so forth. I think it's more a case of outrage and indignity that some asshole would actually point a laster at a pilot flying an aircraft than it is likely to be something that requires banning the devices entirely and making it a federal offense to use one outdoors at night etc.

Personally I think I might prefer the asshole with the laser pointer over having to land in a thunderstorm.

G.

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