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Laser Injures Delta Pilot's Eye 772

Posted by timothy
from the scary-thought dept.
stormfish writes "The Washington Times is reporting that laser light from an unknown source injured a pilot's eye as he was flying a Boeing 737 from Dallas to Salt Lake City. A 5 milliwatt laser pointer is strong enough to damage a person's eye, and stronger laser's are not that hard to come by. Unfortunately, having pilots wear colored laser safety glasses would be impractical as that would make it impossible to interpret the colored symbols on paper maps and cockpit displays."
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Laser Injures Delta Pilot's Eye

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  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:44AM (#10384031)
    It's extremely easy to get Class IIIa (potential eye damage, especially if viewed through optical instruments) and Class IIIb (potential instantaneous eye damage, even from reflected beam) lasers, even in handheld pointer form:

    Class IIIa (>5mW) 532nm green laser pointer [thinkgeek.com] (ThinkGeek)

    Class IIIb (>15mW) 532nm green laser pointer [megalaser.com] (MegaLaser)

    Class IIIb 200mW handheld green laser [amazing1.com] (Information Unlimited)

    It's even possible to get small, portable Class IV (potential instant severe eye damage, even from diffuse or reflected beams; this is the class of laser which also includes burning and cutting beams) lasers:

    Various Class IV portable lasers [amazing1.com], including a small battery powered 2W diode laser (Information Unlimited)

    The front windows of a commercial aircraft and objects in the cockpit could easily reflect and refract a beam from the ground in ways that would be at a minimum very distracting and unsafe, and potentially damaging to eyesight.

    Information [stanford.edu] about [nih.gov] laser [bnl.gov] classes [fda.gov].

    • by mirko (198274) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:48AM (#10384098) Journal
      All of these handhelds laser have had their public sales suspended in France where there had been to many complaints from both victims and their optometrists.
      It's still possible to buy some but in a very restricted context.
    • by networkBoy (774728) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:49AM (#10384115) Homepage Journal
      Though not easily portable I have a 15W CO2 laser, which could be rigged up in a pickup bed quite simply. Put a camper shell over it and it'd be quite hard to figure out where the beam came from. Setup time would be roughly 1/2 hour from when the vehicle quits moving. There is no teardown time so you could shoot and run. I was able to pick up nearly everything for under $200 surplus. I've got to figure even larger rigs are easily acquired.
      -nB
      • by VC (89143) * on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:09AM (#10384393)
        Stay where you are, we'll be over in black vans to pick you up in a couple of minutes..
      • by Gyorg_Lavode (520114) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:12AM (#10384427)
        Yeah, and what is your tracking, targeting, and atmospheric compensation hardware?
        • by gr8_phk (621180) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @12:10PM (#10385158)
          Agreed. For a terrorist, they'd be shooting several miles at a target the size of... your eye. There are 4 targets that need to be hit to completely blind the pilot and copilot. Doesn't sound like an easy task to me.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @12:53PM (#10385636)
            You seem to be mistaken in one thing though. You assume that the goal is to actually take down an aircraft.

            Terrorism is not necessarily synonymous with mass murder-- i.e. either one can exist without the other. It is entirely possible that terrorists could be trying to make people *think* that they are vulnerable in the sky, thus spreading terror and poisoning the economic climate for the airlines.

            Hell, terrorism could include anything from leaving empty packages market "bomb" in airport restrooms and sending letters to various random people containing cornstarch and a note with the word "antrax" on it to incidents like September 11th where nearly 3000 people were killed. The important component is not murder, but terror, hence the word.

            There are vast numbers of potential items, such as the corn starch and cardboard boxes mentioned above, which could be used as improvised terrorist weapons most of which have indispensible legitimate uses as well. Indeed no level of regulation can keep an imaginative indivitual from being able to concoct a scheme which will play on our fears and make the public or the government conclude that a threat to public safety or health or an attack against the people or government is either imminant or underway.

            Back to the question of lasers. Schematics for building lasers are available with a minimum of research. Sufficiently powerful lasers may also be able to injure pilots even without directly hitting the eye (i.e. the scattering of the beam via imperfections in the window or reflections off other surfaces inside the cockpit).

            Finally if pilots *think* they are at risk of permanent injury, it may also poison the economy for the airlines. This is another way in which we could be vulnerable as a country to this sort of attack.

            The real issue is that if we live in a society where cornstarch can be used as a weapon of mass terror then we have to re-evaluate our very notion of the role of government in protecting us from the terrorists. Indeed perhaps we need a greater public discussion about all issues involving homeland security and face these as a people rather than delegating this responsibility to the Federal government. Perhaps issues such as airline security, airport security, etc. are best handled by public discourse rather than secret regulation. The public is best equipped to handle the threat of terrorism when they know what the risks are and are able to freely debate and discuss what to do about it.

            Such an approach has been generally successful in the realm of computer security, in the sense that zero-day exploits are not nearly as common as they might be otherwise. An approach of full disclosure of security measures and problems would help us combat the issues much more effectively. The attacks on September 11th certainly seem to indicate that Al Qaeda has performed extensive recon of our airport security measures, so the argument that such disclosure would undermine security holds very little weight for me. Indeed such disclosure may allow us to close the holes before they are exploited (unlike computer software security attacks, successful large-scale terrorist attacks seem to take many months or even possibly several years to plan and execute).

            I am posting anonymously out of fear that such a post could place me on a no-fly list.
      • by deglr6328 (150198) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:22AM (#10384566)
        CO2 emits @ ~ 10 microns wavelength. So far as I know (large) airplaine windows are made from polycarbonate or at least have a polycarbonate layer in them. That is going to mean almost 100% absorption and therefore 0% transmission. A CO2 laser presents a much greater danger from skin burns and the like than from eye damage. The eye's aqueous humor and lenses are also opaque to 10um light and you would therefore experience heating of the epithelium over the cornea and not damage to the retina; which I while suspect would be very painful you'd probably have enough time to shut your eyelid and prevent further damage.

        Also I'd like to say that the story poster's alarmist warnings of 5mW lasers is completely unfounded. The extremely high (relatively, anyway) divergence experienced by almost all cheapo, poorly colimated 5mW laser pointers means the beam will be at least inches wide if shone on something as far away as an airplaine at thousands of feet up. The amount of light that can enter the pupil from a "legal" 5mW laser pointer at such a large beamwidth is distracting but totally harmless.
        • by Fishead (658061) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @12:01PM (#10385059)
          I shone my cheapo LASER pointer at my buddies house one night (Trying to find line of site for future WLAN developments). His house is about 300M away, but in amongst other houses, so this was a great way to identify his roof peak and bedroom window. He said that the beam was bigger then his head (although his head is not abnormally large, it isn't exactly small) and looked like someone had a huge spotlight in our kitchen window. Although it looked really bright, he was able to look directly into the beam without pain. Granted there was enough humidity in the air for us to see the beam.
    • by Mr Guy (547690) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:50AM (#10384126) Journal
      I hearby declare the parent post to be a threat to National Security! You can't just go around posting links to dangerous things on the web! Think of the chaos! Think of the humanity! What about the CHILDREN! [opticalres.com]
    • by Phronesis (175966) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:01AM (#10384277)
      Laser pointers would be almost impossible to use against aircraft because the beam diverges so quickly. At 10 feet you might damage someone's retina, but at 1000 feet, the beam will have spread significantly: typical laser pointers have beam divergences of several milliradians, so at 1000 feet the beam will be several feet in diameter and the intensity will be insufficient to damage someone's eye.

      A multi-watt laser with a decently large aperture and a TEM 00 spatial mode would be a different story.

      • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:36AM (#10384720) Homepage Journal
        Laser pointers would be almost impossible to use against aircraft because the beam diverges so quickly. At 10 feet you might damage someone's retina, but at 1000 feet, the beam will have spread significantly:

        I was watching a college bowl game a couple years back and noticed a light spot, about 5 ft diameter following one of the team coaches. It occured to me that some sh!t for brains in the stands was trying to blind the coach with a laser pointer. I wonder if they check for these when frisking people entering stadiums now.

        In Clancy's Debt of Honor the crew of a 747 was blinded by agents with a high intensity light and it certainly occured to me that near an airport such a thing could post a considerable hazard.

    • by Felgerkarb (695336) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:13AM (#10384440)
      **LEGAL DISCLAIMNER** IN NO WAY AM I ADVOCATING THAT ONE SHOULD POINT A LASER POINTER INTO ONE'S OWN OR ANOTHERS EYE

      This has been debated for a while, but recent studies have borne out the idea that class IIIa lasers, up to 5mW, don't cause permanent injury to the retina.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd= Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=1111526 6 [nih.gov]

      • Someone mod the parent up, please. There have been a lot of hand-wringing alarmists making claims about how damaging these things are, and I've often suspected the issue had little scientific merit behind it. I had one person complain that since LASER stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emissions of Radiation, that the light itself was radioactive and therefore could cause cancer!
    • The front windows of a commercial aircraft and objects in the cockpit could easily reflect and refract a beam from the ground in ways that would be at a minimum very distracting and unsafe, and potentially damaging to eyesight.

      Would it be practical to make the windows in the cockpit able to filter out laser light?
  • Sharks (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:45AM (#10384035)
    Did anyone think to check the frickin' sharks in the Great Salt Lake?
  • by BabyDave (575083) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:45AM (#10384045)

    Nothing for you to see here.

    • I'm not going to RTFA now, but when I get home, I'll look it over, write up a summary, go through it with a fine-toothed comb, cross the t's and dot the...
      ...
      ...

      lowercase J's
  • by MoxCamel (20484) * on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:45AM (#10384046)
    He noted that incidents of lasers being directed at commercial airliners during takeoff and landings have raised fears that "this in fact may be a new form of terrorism."

    "Lasers are easily obtainable and can be self-manufactured weapons in the terrorist arsenal, which essentially can effect a soft-kill solution and leave virtually no detectable evidence," he said.

    I'm a private pilot, so I certainly won't make light of this problem. But please...is every new way to hurt somebody going to be another weapon in the terrorist arsenal? Are we going to assume that everytime something happens to someone, a terrorist is behind it? I for one am tired of our leaders trying to make us afraid.

    And yeah, this is a rant. Mod me down if you will, before I strike again.

    • by garcia (6573) * on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:48AM (#10384107)
      is every new way to hurt somebody going to be another weapon in the terrorist arsenal? Are we going to assume that everytime something happens to someone, a terrorist is behind it? I for one am tired of our leaders trying to make us afraid.

      Of course. Someone must be blamed and the "terrorists" are easy targets. It's like the God fallacy... Because we have nothing to explain it a single "supreme being" must have done it.

      What I want to know is can they install laser protective windshields instead of handing out the glasses? I mean, how often in this day and age do they have to tell colors from the cockpit window on the ground? Wouldn't that be an effective countermeasure or is it more beneficial just to ignore the problem because it happens so infrequently?
      • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:00AM (#10384261)
        How are they going to make a 'laser protective windshield"? You can't just filter one frequency out and call it safe. Lasers do come in more than one wavelength. If they spend the money, they can shine whatever wavelength they want at you. What are you expecting? The captain to order the crew to 'modulate the shield frequency', and if that doesn't work, 'reverse the polarity'?
        • by BlueTooth (102363) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:42AM (#10384800) Homepage
          Laser protected wind shield: a piece of metal. Commerical airlines are flown almost entirely on intruments, the glass windshield is there for taxing around the runway. Even landing is starting to be done "by wire" ... I think the true solution is to just make it so the pilot doesn't need to see. If he gets hit while taxing, no big deal. That's what co-pilots are for.
          • Good point, the NATO forces have had all the fun with no window flying for years, with craft ranging from the B-52 down to the brit's Tornado jets. The Tornado is (was) actually programmed preflight with reel to reel tape that has been terrain matched, the pilot can overide, but most of the time he can take a nap until its time to drop some ordanance.
      • by ameline (771895) <ian.ameline@g m a il.com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:05AM (#10384340) Homepage Journal
        If there's a radio failure, the control tower uses light signals -- under ordinary circumstances, you need to remember that airport lights (runway, taxiway, etc) are color coded. As a pilot, you *must* be able to tell the difference between red, green, yellow, blue and white lights.

        (Yes, I am a pilot)
        • I'm sorry, WHY do you have to tell the difference between red, green, yellow blue and white lights?

          Red is end of the runway. Green is the beginning of the runway. The pattern gives it away, not just the colour. You should be landing at the far end of the Christmas tree, which co-incides with the Green lights.

          Secondly, the Blue lights... For a taxiway... By which time you have already landed... and it's obvious that the green lights in the centre are the centreline - you could do it colourblind.

          White woul
          • by MoxCamel (20484) * on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:42AM (#10384798)
            I'm only actually a VFR pilot, and I've just bullshitted a lot, but to all intents and purposes, you don't need colour outside of the cockpit!

            I don't mean this unkindly...mostly. But if you really are a rated pilot, then you missed some very fundamental knowledge. Colors are extremely important. You may think you can reason it all out by context, but as you fly more you're going to realize that there are just too many different ways things are done in aviation. Color-blindness can kill. There's a reason you were tested for it when you took your flight physical.

            You should also start working on, or reading up on your IFR rating, before posting about it. At some point, all but the most sophisticated aircraft need to transition between IFR and visual. (some commercial planes can literally land themselves) Sometimes it's only a hundred feet off the ground, but there is always a transition. And when you make that transition, things like the VASI/PAPI/etc (any multi-colored glideslope indicator) are extremely important to get right. Things like making sure you're not landing on a taxi-way are important to get right. (Even multi-thousand hour pilots have done that)

            I'm guessing you're newly rated, in which case welcome to the club. But you're making some very dangerous assertions that I hope doesn't indicate a dangerous flying attitude.

          • by ameline (771895) <ian.ameline@g m a il.com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:52AM (#10384946) Homepage Journal
            So you're a pilot too -- ever had a power failure? A radio failure? (I've experienced both -- including power at night -- had to land holding a flashlight in my mouth so I could read the airspeed). You can't get an avaiation medical certificate if you are colorblind, and for good reason.

            As for the colors on the ground -- don't want to land on a taxi-way, now, do we? (not all runways have center lights or strobed threshold lights or christmas trees, and if blue and white look the same to you, it can be easy to mistake the taxiway for the runway -- hell it's happened to people who can tell the difference, but who are tired).

            As for telling the difference -- remember your light-gun signals for when your radio dies? (And yes, during that power failure, obviously the radios were not working too well). You know; red, green, white. Quick question -- what does flashing red mean when you're in the air? On the ground? You shold know them all without looking it up. (On short final in a dark cockput with a flashlight in your mouth, left hand on the control column, right on the power, flying the plane (compensating for a crosswind), watching for the light signals from the tower, is *NOT* a good time to be looking up things like this -- even if it is printed on the cheat-sheet on your kneeboard under a stack of other paperwork.)

            The long and the short of it is that flying at night color blind is just asking for trouble.
        • That can be easily changed. The FAA just needs to require commercial pilots to have a high midichlorian count. They wouldn't need to see they runway lights then.
      • by thepoch (698396) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:09AM (#10384391)
        And after they install the laser protective windshields, what next? Install foam around the door frames because the pilot could get his finger cut off if someone slams the door on his hand? Maybe make the entire cockpit of the plane ejectable and flyable, leaving the entire passenger cabin behind because someone might fart and make the captain choke to death. How about getting rid of plane food, since in the slight chance you get a bad batch, the entire crew can get diarrhea and not be able to land the plane.

        My comment sounds flamish, I don't mind if it's modded Flamebait or Troll. But I'm just trying to point out the irony in saying the Terrorists have not won, and yet it's the American government that's trying to scare everyone shitless. I find it also absurd that people have to think up ways to make things safe because they are dangerous now. I hope everyone realizes that cars are terrorist tools, gasoline stations are as well, cellphones are also, computers also, heck even an everyday tool such as a screw driver can cause terror in supermarkets.

        Sorry I'm ranting. Be happy =)
        • by the pickle (261584) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:38AM (#10384755) Homepage
          How about getting rid of plane food, since in the slight chance you get a bad batch, the entire crew can get diarrhea and not be able to land the plane.

          I know you were semi-joking here, but this is exactly why many airlines require their first officers and captains to have different meals. It makes it that much harder for terrorists to take over a plane after slipping roofies into the food supply, because they would have to poison all the food, not just one particular dish.

          p
        • How about getting rid of plane food, since in the slight chance you get a bad batch, the entire crew can get diarrhea and not be able to land the plane.

          OMG! I totally saw a documentary [imdb.com] where this happened! The disease the crew got was terrible! The Physician Dr. Rumack described it this way:

          "It starts with a slight fever and dryness of the throat. When the virus penetrates the red blood cells, the victim becomes dizzy, begins to experience an itchy rash, then the poison goes to work on the central nerv

      • by spellraiser (764337) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:18AM (#10384512) Journal
        The claims about potential actions of terrorists are often fantastic at times, bordering on Weekly World News standards.

        However, this around it's the general media that's speculating wildly ... all the time.

        The results of this Google search [google.com] are rather illuminating:

        Terrorists could bring down US jets with hidden bombs

        ABCNEWS.com : Officials Fear Terrorists Could Take Over Planes

        ABCNEWS.com : Terrorists Could Get Cold War Weapons

        Prescription Drugs | Terrorists Could Tamper With US Drug Supply ...

        BostonHerald.com - Technology: Terrorists could find robot water guards

        Pandagon: Terrorists Could Infiltrate Hockey

        FuturePundit.com: Researchers Warn Terrorists Could Misuse Biotech

        CNEWS - World: Terrorists could set off 'dirty bomb' ...

        Etc. etc. etc. ...

        Now, call me stupid, but why can't someone just come out once and for all and say: 'TERRORISTS COULD KILL YOU!' and then let people get on with their lives, like normal, rational people? I don't live in the US myself, but I imagine these endless 'warnings' all over the media, day in and day out, must get very, very tiring.

    • by JVert (578547) <corganbilly&hotmail,com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:53AM (#10384173) Journal
      Doesn't even need to be originating from terrorists. If there is any novel concept of causing damage, people will fear the terrorists will use it.
      I dont think planes are dangerous anymore. You will have to kill/injure everyone on the plane. Nobody is going to let you fly it like they used to. Honstly all we really need is anti air missiles. The damage is no worse then a couple of public bussess or a subway station. We are spending far too many resources just trying to look like we are doing something when we are just spinning our tires. There are a million different ways to kill alot of people. Focusing on one is pretty damn political.

      I for one am happy that "things are getting better" and "the country is safer". Cause I see a lot more reason for people to be pissed at us then they were 3 years ago. And if I didn't know any better... But this is not a political message, cause I dont vote.
    • by merlin_jim (302773) <James@McCracken.stratapult@com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:05AM (#10384328)
      I'm a private pilot, so I certainly won't make light of this problem. But please...is every new way to hurt somebody going to be another weapon in the terrorist arsenal? Are we going to assume that everytime something happens to someone, a terrorist is behind it? I for one am tired of our leaders trying to make us afraid.

      Read the article. This wasn't a quote from any leader; its from a retired Navy airman who was hit in the eye with a laser during a recon mission and is arguing with the Navy Appeals committee to try and get a purple heart for it.

      In other words, he has a vested interest in making the incident sound as scary and threatening as possible.
    • by spoonyfork (23307) <spoonyfork.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:06AM (#10384344) Journal

      Are we going to assume that everytime something happens to someone, a terrorist is behind it? I for one am tired of our leaders trying to make us afraid.

      Why do you hate freedom?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, I get tired of this too.

      What amazes me is that during FDR's time, it was "we have nothing to fear but fear itself".

      During Clinton's time, there were several thwarted attempts against America that was not publized (does anybody here ever wonder why 400+ FBI agents were flown into Seattle for Y2K? It was not to have a party).

      Now we have a leader that only wants to point out how scarey everything is and how he is protecting us. Forget about the fact that

      1. we were attacked by Al Qaeda on his watch (even
  • by bluelip (123578) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:45AM (#10384047) Homepage Journal
    Can the cockpit windows have a safety coating applied instead of the pilot wearing glasses. Would tint the look of the world outside the plane, but wouldn't hinder looking at the interior all that much.

    • by dnaboy (569188) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:53AM (#10384162)
      Main problem is there are lasers across the visual spectrum. As you start layering filters to cover the major chemical laser wavelengths, then start looking at commercially available solid state lasers and even tunable lasers, and all of the sudden you're looking at a situation where no light is getting in to the cockpit anyway.

      I would propose that actually physically seeing out of the window is less and less neccessary. At the same time oLED and plasma displays keep getting better. Why not recreate environment using cameras and flat displays? Sure it wouldn't look normal at first, but keep in mind, pilots all get certified on simulators.

      Plus, it opens the door to all sorts of useful heads up display possibilities (porn).

      • I know some folks workin' on it.

        Here was one demo. [rockwellcollins.com]

        Here's a picture. [rockwellcollins.com]
      • I would propose that actually physically seeing out of the window is less and less neccessary.

        But not totally unnecessary. In the event of a systems failure, looking out the window may be the last resort to get the plane on the ground. Take that option away, and you're screwed.

        Redundancy and graceful failure modes can help reduce the risk, but I don't think we're there yet to be able to completely do away with cockpit windows.

      • EXTREMELE BAD IDEA (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:20AM (#10384539) Journal
        This idea is insane and could possibly only be uttered by someone totally unaware of anything to do with flying/safety and common sense.

        So exactly why would closing of the outside world be such a bad idea?

        Aircraft instruments ain't failsafe. There have been countless incidents where instruments have failed not totally, easily spotted, but slightly (a direction finder slightly off, an altitude meter reading to high) off. Sure aircraft have redundant instruments and pilots are supposed to check but they don't. Even the fact that a plane got two pilots each with their own instruments has not proven enough in the past to prevent a disaster when the captain decides to follow his instrument readout.

        So what does this have to do with windows? Well a look at the outside will quickly tell you a lot that you would take several instruments. Altitude, attitude, weather, air traffic, ground traffic. All pretty damn important.

        Worse while pilots are trained to fly without outside references it does have the danger of the pilot loosing orientation. Thinking that up is down and such. I remember at least one crash investigation where the pilot was following his instruments into trying to correct the aircraft while he was in fact flying it straight into the ground.

        So the above post is not informative. It is totally mis-informed. Pilots need their windows.

    • by hazee (728152) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:58AM (#10384232)
      How about some sort of fast-acting photochromic coating instead? So that it's transparent most of the time, but darkens when hit by laser (or any very bright) light.
      • How about some sort of fast-acting photochromic coating instead? So that it's transparent most of the time, but darkens when hit by laser (or any very bright) light.

        Any bright light? Like the sun?
  • Caution! (Score:5, Funny)

    by shawn(at)fsu (447153) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:45AM (#10384051) Homepage
    Do not look at laser with remaining eye.

    How many times do we need to tell people that
  • Ha... (Score:4, Funny)

    by c0dedude (587568) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:45AM (#10384054)
    Thinkgeek [thinkgeek.com] wanted for questioning.
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Raagshinnah (670749) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:46AM (#10384058)
    I, for one, welcome our new flying shark overlords

    *cringes in terror*
  • by smari (257143) <spm&vlug,eyjar,is> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:46AM (#10384061) Homepage
    How can they be sure it's a laser? Can't directional intense light come from a number of places... like, for example, the sun? (Yeah yeah, the sun is anything but directional, but you get my point..)
    • by smari (257143) <spm&vlug,eyjar,is> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:55AM (#10384193) Homepage
      Uhh ohh, I'm replying to myself again...

      Okay, I read the article. It may well have been a laser? Intentional... I doubt it. Have you ever tried pointing a laser at a specific letter on a whiteboard? Try hitting somebody's eye through the window of a jet that's up in the sky, and furthermore moving, presumably right in your general direction. Takes a skill. These evil terrorists are so skilled these days!
      • Not so much skill as planning. You would only need to find a location with a clear line of sight to the cabin. As noted in the article, the incident occured on descent so the laser was probably on a tallish hill or building near the airport.

        The laser itself could be mounted on a tripod for stability and smooth control along with a rifle scope for aiming. Even allowing for movement of cockpit relative to the beam, you would have a reasonable chance of blinding a crew member given enough time and enough a

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:46AM (#10384065) Homepage Journal
    Is there any way to make glass opaque to coherent light while still passing visible light? Or are pilots going to have to fly by instruments and video screens to protect themselves? (Can a readily available laser damage a CCD?)
    • Is there any way to make glass opaque to coherent light while still passing visible light? Or are pilots going to have to fly by instruments and video screens to protect themselves? (Can a readily available laser damage a CCD?)

      Unfortunately, anything you do to affect visibility of coherent light is going to affect the visibility of diffuse light. But you can do smart things with polarization and embedded diffraction filters; you'll get some amount of distortion, but you can probably tune the distortion o
  • by freeze128 (544774) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:47AM (#10384077)
    The goggles do nothing!
  • by BobTheLawyer (692026) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:47AM (#10384079)
    Having pilots wear coloured safety glasses wouldn't be impractical, it would be impossible; the only colour that would block all laser frequencies is black.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:59AM (#10384250)
      > Having pilots wear coloured safety glasses wouldn't be impractical, it would be impossible; the only colour that would block all laser frequencies is black.

      Simple. Equip every pilot with a pair of Joo-Janta 2000 Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses, that turn totally black at the first indication of danger! Joo-Janta 2000 Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses: Another fine product of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation!

  • by Foofoobar (318279) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:54AM (#10384176)
    Couldn't a laser from that high up only be directed from some place in front of the plane or above it (ie satellite)??
  • alarmist story. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:54AM (#10384177) Homepage
    First off the laser needs to be of significant power to do that from a distance.

    Secondly it needs to be mounted to a telescope for aiming.

    The articel does not mention any laser facts but uses the word "laser" in an ominous way as to induce fear in the readers.

    to cause that kind of damage to an eye, it either needs to be high enough power to cause damage and hit directly, if it's indirect, then it needs to be significantly higher power.

    no your laser pointer will not blind a pilot from 5 miles away after it's power was reduced from the beam splitting effects of the windshield.
  • by maybeHere (804258) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:57AM (#10384225)
    I think it was "Debt of Honour" where CIA operatives near the airport use lasers to blind japanese (don't ask) AWACS pilots, making them crash their planes. Coincidentally, that book ends with a airliner being crashed into the White House. Soo, what does this mean? It's obvious - Tom Clancy is providing The Terrorists (tm) with ideas and needs to be put in jail ASAP!
  • by ARRRLovin (807926) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:59AM (#10384249)
    "The plane's two pilots reported that the Boeing 737 had been five miles from the airport when they saw a laser beam inside the cockpit, said officials familiar with government reports of the Sept. 22 incident."

    Next thing you know, they're smearing vaporub on each other and are struggling to find words to describe how awesome their faces feel right now.
  • by iansmith (444117) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:00AM (#10384263) Homepage
    The story said they saw a laser beam inside the cockpit. To do that from the ground would take some pretty quick targeting work.

    Could a first class prankster have used a pointer through a small hole or something similar? Maybe the door was open?

    Grasping at straws here.
  • by yagu (721525) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ugayay]> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:01AM (#10384281) Journal

    On approach for landing in Seattle (I was just a passenger, not pilot) I was looking out the window into downtown Bellevue. From an area near the Bellevue main mall (hard to tell where exactly from 5000 feet, and 3 miles over) was some kind of laser light show, and the laser in describing its pattern for the show occasionally and momentarily came directly through the window, and directly in my eyes. Even this very brief exposure was painful, and my eyes had after-images for hours! The laser was green, so I assume an even higher energy than a red laser (don't know for sure).

    Ever since that encounter I've always wondered if it was just an incredible fluke, or something that could happen easily again. Now I know.

    • me too (Score:4, Interesting)

      by radish (98371) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @12:00PM (#10385038) Homepage
      I'm a regular visitor to Ibiza (it's an island near spain famed for it's nightlife) and a few years ago it was quite common for the nightclubs with laser shows to "point out" aircraft on approach (as they carried the next batch of party people). From the ground it just looks like you're shining the laser at the plane, but from inside it's crazy as the beam shines through the windows and lights up the cabin (which has it's lights off for nightime landing). Was quite fun at the time but looking back I can see the potential danger.

      This was a few years ago, I believe the airlines complained and the clubs were banned from doing it any more.
    • by serjinn (755167) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @12:16PM (#10385221)
      No it has nothing to do with the energy. It's actually quite simple:

      green = Rebels
      red = Imperials

      Clearly you were attacked by one of the good guys.
  • Navigator (Score:3, Funny)

    by WPIDalamar (122110) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:04AM (#10384309) Homepage
    I bet the navigator sitting behind the pilot is hiding his laser keychain about now.

    oops.

  • by nukeade (583009) <serpent11NO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:11AM (#10384411) Homepage
    I remember reading something similar in a Reader's Digest a few years ago:

    Apparently the US was tracking a Russian "Laundry Ship" north of Canada because they somehow found it suspicious. A while later, the helicopter pilot that had been filming the ship came to the doctor having vision problems. Upon close examination, there was a grid of little damaged, scar-tissue-surrounded holes in his retina. Upon examination of the video, they found a brief flash that when freeze-framed proved to be a grid of bright little laser points that had flashed at the helicopter from the boat! So it's nothing new to use lasers to destroy the vision of expensive-to-train pilots. The question is, was this stray laser light or something intentional as was the case with the "laundry ship"?

    ~Ben
  • LDS (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:13AM (#10384444)
    We need to add Laser Detection Systems to the planes, that will fire a laser back in the same direction as the incoming one, a little offset so as to hit the terrorist in the eye. An eye for an eye.
  • by telemonster (605238) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:19AM (#10384527) Homepage
    The article lacks enough information... Often times direct exposure from handheld pointers has been cited and hyped as if it was a 40 watt 523nm YAG laser.

    There are rules and restrictions for directing coherent laser light up into the sky at night. You generally file a report with the center for disease and radiological health.

    In addition to all of this, even with a 5 watt argon, at a great distance the beam will fall out of coherency. There is a big difference between a beam that is tightly focused / coherent, and one where the output is spread on a 12" circle (temOO?).



    Another big factor is if the laser is moving real fast, once again the light is spread out...

    The US has pretty strict laws on this stuff, where as other countries do not. You will see pictures of crowd scanning from high powered lasers in other countries, but you won't generally find crowd scanning above 5mw here.

    There is more information about lasers at the laser faq site (google for Sam's Laser Faq). Laser-FX International also has a bit of information about laser show setups. I have some pictures of my 150mw argon-ion and large frame argon that puts out somewhere between 2.5 and 5 watts of power at my homepage ( http://users.757.org/~ethan )... Lots of pictures.

    Without colimating optics, the laser beam from the 150mw argon spreads to 6" or more across at a distance of 1000'.

  • implausible (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jeif1k (809151) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:36AM (#10384722)
    A 5mW laser does not seem to damage a person's eye even when they look directly into it for 15 minutes (see here [nih.gov] for example).

    From a distance of what must be miles away, aimed at a moving aircraft, you would need a laser that was orders of magnitude more powerful in order to damage someone's eye. Even with a powerful laser, you'd generally have to look directly into the optical axis to cause serious vision impairment. And while I haven't gotten injured by a laser, the few times I looked into one accidentally, there was little doubt about when it happened or where the light came from.

    Even more implausible is the claim in the article that someone would "[continue] to suffer eye pain and deteriorating vision"; laser injuries to the eye do not cause continued deterioration and they do not cause chronic pain (here [nih.gov]).

    The whole thing strikes me as wildly implausible. As the article above shows, apparently erroneous claims of laser injuries are fairly frequent. A more likely explanation is that someone is lying, perhaps because he wants to retire early or did something else stupid and wants it covered.
  • by Dr. Stavros (808432) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:41AM (#10384779) Homepage
    they saw a laser beam inside the cockpit

    Now, please let me be the first pedant to point out that for them to have actually seen the beam inside the cockpit, then it must have been helluva dusty or smokey in there. Who were the pilots? Cheech and Chong?

  • Laser Availability (Score:3, Informative)

    by Java Ape (528857) <mike.briggsNO@SPAM360.net> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:42AM (#10384809) Homepage
    Last Christmas I was toying with doing some cloud painting. I used to work at a planetarium, and have designed several laser shows. My thought was to buy the laser heads, then build the power supplies/controllers needed.

    After a couple of hours on ebay, I was pretty shaken. Laser heads in the multi-hundred WATT (not MW) range are readily available to the public, no liscense no oversight. I asked a friend who does laser research about this, and he told me that while it was illegal to sell a high-powered laser to the public, the parts weren't restricted. So, a company can sell you a high power laser head, and next week the power supply, columnating lenses and whatever else you need, they just can't assemble it for you.

    This is like saying that gun shops can sell all the parts for RPG's, but they can't actually load it for you!

    Generally, I'm in favor of minimal govt. oversight, and I don't care for most gun-control laws etc. But NOBODY needs a 1500 watt UV laser for 'personal use' any more than I need tanks and howitzers for deer hunting! The add linked in previous responses showing a 200W laser-pointer shaped like a gun are just frightening. That's not a laser-pointer, it's a weapon, and I certainly don't want it pointed at me by some pimply-faced wanna-be geek trying to impress his friends!

  • by greg_barton (5551) * <greg_barton@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:45AM (#10384849) Homepage Journal
    From the article:

    The plane's two pilots reported that the Boeing 737 had been five miles from the airport when they saw a laser beam inside the cockpit

    If I read this right it says there was a beam (a visible point of light) inside the cockpit. This may not be the case, but it is one possible interpretation.

    If this is the case it's pretty serious. Think about it. What kind of tracking system is necessary to get a laser beam into a cockpit window of a flying plane from the ground and keep it there long enough to be seen by the pilots?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:46AM (#10384863)
    I served in an infantry battalion alongside two tank battalions in Germany in 1982, and shortly after I got there, some moron in one of the then-new M1 tanks decided to test the new-fangled laser rangefinders on an automobile speeding along a nearby country road. He succeeded in permanently blinding the driver, who suffered further devastating injuries in the subsequent crash. If I remember correctly, the tank gunner was convicted at his court-martial and got twenty years in Fort Leavenworth military penitentiary. The point is that the M1's laser rangefinder was orders of magnitude more powerful than any commercial laser pointer, the gunner was using a powerful magnifying optical instrument on a gyro-stabilized tank turret to track an object moving much slower than an aircraft in flight.

    From my limited contact with the optics in an M1 (courtesy a tanker buddy), I appreciate the extreme difficulty of keeping cross-hairs on a fast-moving target, and I seriously doubt that anyone could have hit the windshield of an aircraft in flight with a handheld laser. They would have to have been using some sort of stabilized mount and telescopic rig. Were there any military units on exercises in the area? Bored soldiers will do the stupidest shit. Trust me; I know from personal experience.
  • disability claim (Score:4, Insightful)

    by raelimperialaerosolk (528725) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:52AM (#10384951) Homepage
    The pilot is going to lose his medical and never fly again.

    My guess is that they were screwing around with a laser pointer in the cockpit and the pilot got his eyeball fried.

    Make the claim that you saw it come in while you were landing, and you've got a lifetime of disability payments.

  • by K. (10774) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @12:04PM (#10385086) Homepage Journal
    THis kind of thing was a problem for the US during the first Gulf War. Basically, a laser would be pread with a (parabolic?) mirror, an F117 would fly into the beam, the night-vision camera hooked into the pilot's helmet would be overloaded, and the pilot would be blinded for a second or two, enough to lose control and crash.

    One countermeasure that was later looked into was to use a lens coating with a non-linear response - it remained clear for most light intensities, but went opaque almost instantaneously (in milliseconds) when the intensity went over a certain threshold.

    The reason I know about this was that my nonlinear optics professor had an amusing story about being invited to give a lecture on his research in the US, only to find when he arrived that it was to a military lab with several times more people working on the field than the amount doing the same research, but publically.

    No doubt some bright spark is thinking of trying to sell the same tech to commercial jet makers now, especially since the new invadee paradigm is to just let the Americans in, wait till they relax, then commence the guerilla warfare.
  • by Anonymous Writer (746272) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @02:04PM (#10386440)

    This [slashdot.org] story appeared on Slashdot a while back. It mentions the use of near-infra red light to actually stimulate the healing of retinal cells. NASA has more [nasa.gov] information [nasa.gov] about it on their website as well. Here is a quote from the New Scientist article [newscientist.com] mentioned in the Slashdot story...

    The US Defense Advance Research Projects Agency is funding research into the method and hopes to use it to treat people whose eyes are damaged by lasers. A number of US military personnel, including a helicopter pilot over Bosnia in 1998, have suffered laser eye injuries.

    It seems to be very pertinent to the situations of the Delta pilot and Canadian Navy helicopter pilot in the current story. Some [quantumdev.com] companies [thorlaser.com] make devices using this technology for medical purposes.

  • by brain1 (699194) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @02:13PM (#10386534)
    About 8 years ago I was working on a broadcast transmitter that was in a room on the roof of a apartment tower near Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Mississippi. It was shortly after dark when I emerged from the transmitter shack and I stopped to notice a C-130 on final approach to Keesler. A laser that was part of a display at one of the Casinos painted the bottom of the plane from the nose to tail. The plane wobbled as the pilot was temporarily blinded by the beam. Reading in the newspaper the next day confirmed that the pilot had been temporarily blinded by the laser and the co-pilot had finished the approach and landing.

    At the time laser light shows were the rage at the newly built casinos. Several had them, and all used green lasers whose beams were panned around the sky by motorized mirrors. As these casinos were built surrounding an AirForce base, they were supposed to have safety shutoffs that, during operations, would disable the lasers upon request by the base. An investigation found that these safety devices had been bypassed by maintenance personnel, including a laser whose safety shutter had been defeated by wrapping wire around it.

    Needless to say, the laser light shows were dismantled quickly and were never brought back.

    Fortunately, in this case, the optics spread the beam out with distance, instead of keeping tight collumination, so the pilot did not suffer long term damage.

    These lasers were in the range of 50W, not some little 5mW laser pointer. Their beams could be seen for miles orthogonally and would paint patterns on the underside of clouds over two miles up. Your 5mW laser does not have the collimation, nor the power after atmospheric absorbtion to do much after around 100 ft.

    However, I must admit, lasers in the 50W range are available, would do grevious eye damage at distance, and could be used to down an airplane by blinding the pilots.

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