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FBI Investigating Laser Beams Pointed at Aircraft 500

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-just-point-them-at-my-cats dept.
sakshale writes "In an earlier discussion about Laser Pistols, many people argued about the concept of using them to target pilots of airliners. Apparently the FBI is investigating incidents in Cleveland and Colorado Springs. They issued a warning on December 14th."
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FBI Investigating Laser Beams Pointed at Aircraft

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  • Green with envy (Score:5, Informative)

    by SIGALRM (784769) * on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:51PM (#11223508) Journal
    From LaserShoppe [shiftlock.com]:
    Unfortunately, we have decided to STOP selling these lasers to the general public. Too many people have been doing stupid things with lasers recently, and this product is misunderstood. This laser DOES NOT pose a threat to airplanes or pilots
    Recent events have prompted LaserShoppe (and other outlets) to pull their products from the market, or at least from sale to the general public. The issue has at least raised laser safety consciousness, and the FBI is right to investigate the incidents, but there is always a tendency for the public and media to over-hype issues like this.

    Given some time, and--right or wrong--somebody will attempt to pile on the regulations and we can forget about buying green lasers from ThinkGeek [thinkgeek.com] or anyplace else.
    • damn, how am I supposed to burn holes in stuff now?
      • Magnifying glass, or sulfuric acid.
      • by kirun (658684) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:02PM (#11223621) Homepage Journal
        The site says if you write an essay on laser safety, they'll sell you one. So write down the first 100 things you were going to try, with an introductory paragraph saying "The following actions are just the sort of irresponsible use of lasers that cause accidents. They should not be attempted".
      • Well lets see, the guy is selling high powered green lasers to responsible members of the public at $700 a time

        Exactly how does someone have $700 worth of fun with a laser in a responsible fashion? Its not like the thing is powerful enough to do really cool things like cut James bond in half or something.

        Incidentally, if Goldfinger had really known what he was up to he would have had Bond upside down on the slab of gold. This was the general practice in the middle ages when sawing a man in half was a me

        • Exactly how does someone have $700 worth of fun with a laser in a responsible fashion?

          Use it to "key" cars in public, without being noticed (in day time).

          Write your name in the snow.

          Light a chicks cigarette from across the room.

          Use it to heat your coffee.

          Modify billboards.

          Just don't hurt people with it. Unless they really, really need it. Could you toast a cell phone with it, I wonder?

    • Re:Green with envy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BWJones (18351) * on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:59PM (#11223576) Homepage Journal
      Unfortunately, we have decided to STOP selling these lasers to the general public. Too many people have been doing stupid things with lasers recently, and this product is misunderstood. This laser DOES NOT pose a threat to airplanes or pilots

      And what do you want to bet they had a visit from their local FBI field office? Purchase records subpoenaed?

    • by jspoon (585173) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:01PM (#11223605)
      You'll take my green lasers when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers.
    • I'm confused about all of this. Lasers would have to be pretty powerful and focused at ultra long range to be of much risk. Hell, we regularly use 100-300 mW lasers and the safe standoff distance is several meters because of beam divergence. It's the power density that is of most concern, and all lasers diverge by diffraction. Laser pointers are usually Is there something I'm missing here?
      • Re:Green with envy (Score:5, Informative)

        by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:55PM (#11224388) Homepage Journal
        Hm,

        I have the impression you doint know what a 100 mW or a 300 mW laser is?

        Standard laser pointers are made to divergent, the outlet of the beam has usually a small drop of plastic or glass to achieve that.

        A 100mW laser easily blinds you. And if you have bad luck it does so permanently (usually only the parts imediatly hit, that is ~ a millimeters in diameter, but can be more).

        A 300mW laser easily cut plastics, paper, wood etc. The lasers sold here http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/12/28/185325 3&tid=159/ [slashdot.org] are only 180 mW to 200mW and allready cut plastic cups over a few meters distance.

        You probably have a key missconception: lasers usually do NOT divergent (or only a very little), thats exactly what makes a laser different from normal light.

        angel'o'sphere
        • Re:Green with envy (Score:3, Informative)

          by Phanatic1a (413374)
          asers usually do NOT divergent (or only a very little), thats exactly what makes a laser different from normal light.

          What makes a laser different from normal light is that it is coherent and monochromatic.

          Uncollimated laser light obeys the inverse-square law. Even collimated laser light obeys it, it's just that you need to treat the initial range to the source as greater than it actually is - the 'source' of the beam isn't the exit lens, but is represented as a point behind that lens. The more collim
        • Actually, I know quite well about what 100 mW lasers can do. You've taken a lot of assumptions into account. Yes, a 100 mW laser can cut plastics and wood and permanently blind you (and even burn skin), but that all depends on (a) the wavelength, (b) the focus distance (or collimation), and (c) length of stationary time.

          Near IR lasers tend to be absorbed by the front of the eye and not make it to the retina. (That doesn't mean they can't do harm to the eye, but not in the same way.) But this isn't so

    • Re:Green with envy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RapmasterT (787426) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:44PM (#11223923)
      The utter ludicrousness of the claims in this article are astounding, mostly in how many people have bought it without any question.

      While it's entirely likely "something" occured, the dilution of the story through the press has resulted in something that even a child would find fault in.

      1. What constitutes a "laser" in the cockpit? A red dot? not likely at 1.5 miles altitude. Not to mention that the range would be a hypotenuse of the altitude and therefore MUCH farther.

      2. The accuracy required to "track" the cockpit of a jet aircraft is astounding. This is the kind of test that prototype military weaponry fails routinly.

      3. Assuming a laser was used, tracked accurately...what power output would be required for it to even be noticable? The thing would have to be semi-truck mounted.

      Anyone think that maybe, it might be likely that this story has been utterly and completely misrepresented by the press? Or that maybe a drunk pilot noticed a reflection off a stray CD in the cockpit and freaked out? I see stray lights on my walls all the time, never once did I think terrorists were trying to blind me.
      • Re:Green with envy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by myowntrueself (607117) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:16PM (#11224155)
        I think that the 'green dot' would have to be from a laser which was up there with the airliner.

        If there were much distance between the laser and the cockpit it wouldn't be much of a 'dot' and besides the tracking problem would be huge.

        No; this laser must be from another aircraft, probably military.

        The question is, what sort of lasers do the military use for painting targets? Green?

        Or maybe its just bullshit to start with.
        • Re:Green with envy (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MadMorf (118601)
          The question is, what sort of lasers do the military use for painting targets? Green?

          Infrared.

          I know, I got to "fire" one from a USAF F-4D back in the 70's...

          Yep, I'm old...
      • by tbo (35008) on Friday December 31, 2004 @05:29AM (#11226425) Journal
        IAAP (I am a physicist). I do not work with lasers, but have taken a graduate level course in non-linear optics that primarily focused on lasers.

        It is quite possible to damage a pilot's eyes at a range of a few miles, using only commercial laser systems [bigskylaser.com]. If done by competent individuals, it would probably involve a pulsed infrared laser (harder to detect, and the eye is more susceptible to near IR than to visible). A Nd:YAG laser (1064 nm) would be ideal.

        Since a pulsed laser is used, there's no need for tracking the plane. A single 10-nanosecond pulse would be sufficient. At 10 - 20 pulses per second, you could just scan the sky in the area of the plane.

        After reading the story, I did some rough calculations. For the above-mentioned laser, the laser beam would do damage (although likely not sufficient to totally blind the pilot) at ranges of up to two miles, and the beam would have a spot size several meters in diameter at that range. Obviously, with additional optics, range and spot size could be changed.

        It seems to me that the laser could simply be mounted to a scope on a tripod (after some careful alignment), and that targetting by hand would work at least some of the time.

        All this aside, I don't think the recent cases are anything to be worried about. More likely it's just a nutbar with a relatively weak visible laser (I assume the laser was in the visible range because the pilots reported it, and I doubt commercial planes are equipped to detect IR lasers). If it was someone serious, they'd be using IR lasers, and we wouldn't know until pilots started getting eye damage.

        That said, the overall risk of plane crashes from this form of attack is low. If the airport and immediate area are kept secure (and they should be if only to guard against Stinger-style missile attacks), it's very unlikely someone with a commercial laser could get close enough to completely blind a pilot. Military or custom-built research lasers could blind from greater distances, but such systems are very finicky, and I can't see terrorists pulling that off.

        Finally, I'd like to address a few points other people have brought up. If the polarization and angle of the beam are chosen correctly, virtually none will be reflected off the plane's window, and all will be transmitted (see Brewster's Angle [wolfram.com]). For modest laser powers, the damage to the retina will be localized to where the laser beam is imaged, leaving much of the pilot's vision intact. Bad for the pilot, but he could probably still land. For more intense beams, other damage mechanisms come into play (apparently for severe cases there is an actual popping sound perceived by the victim as the laser pulse creates a small shock wave inside the eye), and more of the victim's vision could be damaged.

        Protective goggles aren't really an option, as they only protect against one wavelength. Attackers could then switch to a different type of laser (Ti:saph?). Combining goggles leads to virtually no light getting through.

        References
        Journal of Biomedical Optics 4(3), 337-344 (July 1999).
        Big Sky Laser CFR-800 spec sheet [bigskylaser.com]
      • Re:Green with envy (Score:3, Interesting)

        by arivanov (12034)
        The ridiculous aspect of the story is due to censorship.

        The only way to pick up a laser pointed in an aircraft from the ground is if the aircraft has a missile warning system installed. Most of these have a component which picks up illumination by laser distance/speed measurement equipment.

        Officially no US airline carries such thing (Israeli do, British Airways is considering it for some flights). Unofficially - the appearance of the article means that quite a few have it already or plan to do so and are
    • by Guppy06 (410832) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:11PM (#11224118)
      "This laser DOES NOT pose a threat to airplanes or pilots"

      Remember: lasers don't kill people, guided weapons that follow laser beams kill people.
    • Re:Green with envy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RapmasterT (787426)

      On Christmas night, two SkyWest pilots said they saw two laser-like rays of light in their cockpit as they attempted to land at the airport in Medford, Ore.

      On Monday, a laser beam was directed into the cockpit of a commercial jet flying about 15 miles from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport at an altitude of between 8,500 and 10,000 feet, the FBI said. It was determined the laser came from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.

      Also on Monday in Colorado Springs, two pilots reported gre

  • by networkBoy (774728) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:51PM (#11223511) Homepage Journal
    So fitting. I was blinded by the laser
    -nB
  • by PornMaster (749461) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:52PM (#11223519) Homepage
    By sharks with frickin' laser beams on their heads...
    • Interestingly a Russian trawler (actually a spy ship) purportedly did aim a laser at a Canadian military helicopter [worldnetdaily.com] in 1997. This incident was pretty much brushed under the carpet (just as the recent findings regarding Chinese spying in Canada will undoubtedly be).
      • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:24PM (#11223783)
        http://www.judicialwatch.org/archive/newsletter/20 04/0104d.shtml

        he Pentagon inspector general has asked the Navy to consider awarding JW client Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly (Ret.) a purple heart for injuries he suffered as a result of being shot with a laser by a Russian spy ship. Curiously, however, the Navy to this day maintains Jack's injuries never occurred. And evidence compiled by Judicial Watch suggests the Clinton Administration covered up the attack in order to avoid international conflict.

        "Jack Daly certainly deserves a medal for his injury from a hostile force," said JW President Tom Fitton. "For more than six years, the U.S. government has refused to acknowledge an attack of a U.S. serviceman in American waters."

        "Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly (Ret.) was partially blinded by a laser attack. The laser was fired at Daly from the Russian spy ship Kapitan Man in April, 1997, while Daly was on an official reconnaissance mission, flying over the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, WA. During his surveillance, which took place aboard a Canadian military helicopter, Daly felt a flash of brilliant light strike his eyes, causing him to turn away. Later in the day he would experience stinging in his eyes and sharp pains in his head. The next morning he awoke with a small pool of blood in one of his eyes.

        Military doctors told Daly that he and his Canadian chopper pilot, Captain Pat Barnes (Ret.), had been shot at with a laser by the Russians. The damage would be permanent.

        Rather than standing by their injured military official, however, Clinton Administration officials treated the incident as an inconvenient stumbling block on the path to improved relations with the Russian government and covered it up.

        The Kapitan Man was not searched until several days later and only after at least 10 hours advanced warning given to the Russians. Though a thorough search should have taken 2-3 days, U.S. inspectors were aboard for less than 4 hours. Predictably, no evidence was found.

        Judicial Watch currently has an appeal pending for Jack Daly against the Far East Shipping Company, the owners of the Kapitan Man."
  • > Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

    CmdrTaco always regretted his decision to stare into the beam with his remaining good eye.

  • by bfizzle (836992) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:52PM (#11223526)
    Well if people would put tops to their shark tanks we wouldn't be having this problem, now would we?
  • More info (Score:5, Funny)

    by johnnyb (4816) <jonathan@bartlettpublishing.com> on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:54PM (#11223542) Homepage
    Some [freerepublic.com] good [freerepublic.com] links [freerepublic.com] from FreeRepublic [freerepublic.com].

    Seems like Dr. Evil and his "laser beam" are finally starting to do their evil deeds!
  • by Stevyn (691306) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:54PM (#11223546)
    More information in this [wikipedia.org] article that may be helpful. I think this is potentially a very serious problem.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:26PM (#11223794) Homepage
      no it is not.

      any laser that the general public can get their hands on will DO NO DAMAGE to a pilot or even distract them.

      first off even the high power green ones, at the 100 meters or MORE distance these people are at, they need to retrofit the laser with a tripod, fluid head and a high power scope just to hit the plane.

      Now let's addin the fac tt hat the angle if incidence of the beam to the cockpit window is at such an extreme angle that less than 20% of the beam will pass through the window, and THAT will get attenuated further by the cockpit glass.

      let's further add that the pilot is looking at the centerline of the runway and not directly at things that might be interesting, and if it's a clear sunny day a reflection glint off cars in the parking lot is 200 times brighter than any consumer laser.

      this is nothing but a bunch of people freaking out about isolated incidents.

      if I was able to get my hands on a targeting laser, Yes, that MIGHT be able to hit the cockpit window because of the gyro stablization of the optics and laser, but then it's infrared so NOBODY would know it was hitting it!

      can I get my hands on industrial lasers? yeah if I look hard enough, but you certianly will not run them off some portable battery for longer than a few seconds.

      it is NOT a serious problem. Quit being a scared soccer mom.
      • this is nothing but a bunch of people freaking out about isolated incidents

        Well, that's a relief. When a blinded pilot crashes on top of me, it will be quite comforting to know that it was an isolated incident, so I needn't worry about it happening too often.

      • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:11PM (#11224119)
        I once worked for a guy who bought and sold all types of electronic surplus. One neat toy he got one lot was a 20W water cooled laser. It consumed about 23KW I believe and needed a 3 phase 208v supply. I offerd to buy it but the three phase power needed would be too difficult to provide unless I bought a 3 phase generator. So yes the general public can obtain very powerful lasers if they look hard enough.
      • by tiny69 (34486) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:26PM (#11224213) Homepage Journal
        any laser that the general public can get their hands on will DO NO DAMAGE to a pilot or even distract them.
        There's already one report of a pilot having his eyesight damaged because of a laser being shined into the cockpit of an airplane that he was flying.
        this is nothing but a bunch of people freaking out about isolated incidents.
        Tom Clancy used the idea of blinding pilots in his book "Debt of Honor". However, high powered strobe lights was used instead of lasers. A number of news reports picked up on this when it first become public in the beginning of December.

        While your average laser pointer couldn't do much, it's not hard to get higher powered lasers for educational or commercial purposes.

        if I was able to get my hands on a targeting laser, Yes, that MIGHT be able to hit the cockpit window because of the gyro stablization of the optics and laser, but then it's infrared so NOBODY would know it was hitting it!
        I guess you never tried to shine sunlight into someones eyes with a mirror as a kid. It's not as hard as you think, even with a moving target. No, it wouldn't be a steady beam shining into the cockpit. But with a stong enough laser, the beam wouldn't need to be steady.

        Do you really think that a terrorist organization that is determined and resourced enough to pull off 9/11 couldn't get ahold of a few high powered lasers?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:56PM (#11223559)
    How can a laser beam travel round the nose of a plane overhead, and accurately reach the pilot's eyes from say, a few thousand feet away?

    The guy pointing it must have steady hands, and damn good vision.
    • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:10PM (#11223675)
      They didn't shine it at a plane directly overhead, the pointed it at a plane a few miles away. At that distance, even at an altitude of a few thousand feet, the pilots still have a clear line of site to the ground. The could be hit much closer if the incoming beam was slighly angled to come in from the front side and not straight ahead over the center of the nose.
      • A few thousand feet?

        8,500 feet straight up is more than a few thousand feet at enough of an angle that you could be in line of site of the pilot.

        I strongly doubt that this was a hand held laser. At about 10,000 feet - 2 miles - that would take a pretty steady hand and damn good eyes.....
        • by LurkerXXX (667952)
          Some folks have pretty steady hands and damn good eyes. Especially when braced or using a tripod/bipod. The world record sniper kill shot...

          http://www.snipercountry.com/Articles/KillingShot _ 2430Metres.asp [snipercountry.com]

          2,430 metres. Ok, so it's only been done once at that distance but think...

          The distance away these bad guys that had the laser were was probably 10x what the sniper was. But the sniper shot a man. The laser only had to hit the cockpit which probably has 10x the cross section of a man. No diff

      • by Lumpy (12016)
        ok I DARE you to hold a laser pointer beam on a pencil dot that is 200 feet away.

        now I dare you to hold that beam on a basketball that is 1500 feet away. you CAN NOT. it is impossible without special equipment. even a tripod and scope is inaccurate and will jiggle all over hell from ground vibrations. there is no way you can hit an airplane a "few miles away" with anything a consumer can touch.

        the only thing useable is gyroscope stabalized laser aiming systems. and those are not common, cheap or easy to
        • now tell me where I can get a very light 1 watt laser with military grade collimation...

          Here you go [amazon.com]. There's plans in that book for a pulsed CO2 laser that'll cut steel. It's probably more than 1 watt and the capacitor bank isn't very light, but the quartz tube should be light enough to mount on your telescope mount if you've got one heavy enough to stabilize that telescope.

        • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:44PM (#11223926)
          I'm assuming the laser used was a large one, not some little pencil laser. A large one could easily be set up on a bipod or tripod mount (think of rifles or large caliber guns on mounts). Sharpshooters can hit things at extreme distance when their guns are properly braced. Snipers have taken out individual people with bullets at well over a miles distance. The cockpit is a lot larger target than a single human, plus at several miles the laser beam is going to spread a lot and be a LOT wider than a bullet.

          Ever look at a plane several miles away that is coming straight or almost straight in your direction? Sometimes it seems like they aren't moving at all. The number of arc seconds they will move in 10 seconds time relative to you is very small. I don't think a gyroscope/mechanical tracker would be necessary.

          • by vadim_t (324782)
            Think of what you said for a little.

            A 747 flies at 565 mph or 909 km/h. This is 252 meters *per second*. And as you said, from the ground you barely see it move. You can't just point to it, since a second later your aim will be 252 meters off if you were right under it. Of course really it'd be slower for you due to the angle, but we can assume that the plane isn't at your altitude flying right at you, which is about the only thing that would make cheap aiming possible. The pilot will probably not even not
          • I'm assuming the laser used was a large one, not some little pencil laser. A large one could easily be set up on a bipod or tripod mount (think of rifles or large caliber guns on mounts). Sharpshooters can hit things at extreme distance when their guns are properly braced. Snipers have taken out individual people with bullets at well over a miles distance.

            Which makes the obvious point:
            Why the hell are you going to bother producing a one-of-a-kind "laser rifle" that *MIGHT* blind a pilot when you could j
            • Why the hell are you going to bother producing a one-of-a-kind "laser rifle" that *MIGHT* blind a pilot when you could just shoot them with an actual rifle?

              I dont want to build a super fancy one-of-a-kind laser rifle. I'm saying they could just take an industrial laser, mount one end on a bipod/tripod and mount a high power sniper scope on it. Not exactly the type of engineering you need NASA for. A good 'ol boy could do it in an afternoon if he could get his hands on a high power industrial laser.

              S

    • by St. Arbirix (218306) <matthew.townsend ... il.com minus bsd> on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:10PM (#11224116) Homepage Journal
      Like the Cleveland article said...
      Hawk said the laser had to have been fairly sophisticated to track a plane traveling at that altitude.

      Am I the only one that has used a green laser for a legitimate purpose? Interestingly enough, that legitimate purpose (which seems to be one of two *only* legitimate purposes) seems to be the only way to carry out such a damaging illegitimate use which is what must have happened here... Someone strapped the laser to the side of a telescope! I do it so that I can use the green light to point at a spot in the sky and then not have to fiddle about finding that spot through the scope. It's just a matter of getting a plane in your sight and turning a knob to keep it locked in (funny that the DMCA can prevent me from telling you how to get around a copyright protection mechanism but I can't be touched for describing how to blind a pilot flying at 8,500 feet).

      The other legitimate purpose I mentioned has to do with Pink Floyd and a fog machine... which once again can immediately lead to illegitimate activities.
  • by AmigaAvenger (210519) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:57PM (#11223566) Journal
    here is my question.

    it has been mentioned and it is obviously required that the laser track the cockpit. exactly how has the technology to track the COCKPIT of an airliner moving 200+mph. (pilots mention a constant laser light for 10+ seconds)

    tracking the plane is one thing, and even that is tough to do if you are talking laser accuracy, but the cockpit? also, this has to be done several miles out, since the cockpit windows don't have much downward view anyway.

    outside of military technology, are there any commercial systems that could even do this?

    • by CdBee (742846) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:00PM (#11223596)
      It does have the ring of "post-Sep-11th-paranoia" about it, doesn't it?
    • Yes there are some (Score:5, Informative)

      by GrAfFiT (802657) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:03PM (#11223628) Homepage
      You can easily find computer operated 60w lasers [laser-mouvement.com]. And yes its beam is 5 inches wide [laser-mouvement.com].
      That would hurt.
      • by rewt66 (738525)
        Great. Now all you need is to tie the computer controlling the laser into either a radar or optical system that's tracking the plane. I don't think you can get the integrated system off-the-shelf...

        And so suddenly this is bigger than just buying, borrowing, or stealing one piece of gear. It turns into a serious project, and therefore shows much more deliberate, long-term malice on the part of the perpetrator.
    • by bombadillo (706765) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:30PM (#11223833)
      This is exactly what I have been wondering. You would need some sort of computer assisted device. 20+ years of Star Wars research can't hit a target the size of a ballistic missle. I am pretty sceptical that any one could repeatedly hit inside a cockpit window of an airplane and at the right angle to hit the pilots eyes. Also, a good number of planes land on Auto pilot. this doesn't seem like a very exact way to terrorize people. It sounds more like some pranksters with a laser gun that get a few lucky shots at landing planes. Disturbingly enough Fox news said that one day terrorists could have laser technology that could pierce a planes hull. Unbelievable.....
      • Oh, please. Take off the tinfoil hat.

        >You would need some sort of computer assisted device. 20+
        >years of Star Wars research can't hit a target the size of a
        >ballistic missle.

        First of all, in 20 plus years of research, we HAVE demonstrated the ability to accurately target a missile. Enough to blow a few out of the sky. Second, we've done that from a 747 in flight at high altitude, not just a stable base placed on the ground. For crying out loud, we can repeatedly hit a precise spot on the MOON fro
    • by Michael Spencer Jr. (39538) * <spam.mspencer@net> on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:15PM (#11224148) Homepage
      Sure.

      I own a Sony Handycam (DCR-TRV260) with a 40x optical zoom (and a useless "990x digital zoom" which really just enlarges existing pixels and adds no new detail). I also own a Bogen tripod with a fluid head. (Professional tripods are usually sold with legs and head separate. I have these legs: http://www.bogenimaging.us/product/templates/templ ates.php3?sectionid=102&itemid=823 [bogenimaging.us] and this head: http://www.bogenimaging.us/product/templates/templ ates.php3?sectionid=9&itemid=287 [bogenimaging.us] )

      I would never do anything like this in real life, but it would be possible for me to somehow strap a laser pointer onto my camcorder. I would then need to stand my tripod up securely and calibrate it, so the laser points at the exact middle of the image. I could do this by just pointing the whole thing at a wall, zooming in, and then fine-tuning the laser aim until it shows in the middle of my viewfinder. I could then do the same thing for a distant object, like the wall of a house several blocks away, and fine-tune the laser aim even more until the point was in the middle of the viewfinder.

      Keep in mind the whole point of a fluid tripod head is to give the operator fine pressure-sensitive control of where the camera is pointing. There are no rubber pads pushed up against metal, seizing the metal and making fine movement impossible. Fluid heads use oil cartridges and tension knobs that let you tighten or loosen, but never completely lock, the horizontal or vertical movement. If you zoom a camera way in, tighten the tension knobs, and just lay one finger on the tripod pan handle, you can see the camera v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y tracking. To an outside observer you can't even tell the camera is moving, but the viewfinder shows the camera is not only moving, but it's moving smoothly at a constant rate.

      While someone with my rig could just barely track a fast-moving aircraft from far away, they *could* do it.

      --Michael Spencer
  • Accuracy? (Score:2, Interesting)

    What are the chances of someone being able to even hit the cockpit, let alone the pilot's eyes with a commercial laser pointer from 300m+(ballpark figure, but they'd have to stay hidden) against a moving plane?
  • Put some computer-controlled pan-tilted 1000mw lasers on the plane and the runway.
    Maybe some windows 98 operated computers will get mad and transform the runway in some Starwars style battlefield.
    That would be a lot of fun !
  • Regulation (Score:5, Funny)

    by Thunderstruck (210399) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @07:58PM (#11223574)
    Perhaps public misperception can eventually make lasers easier to obtain and more widely produced rather than regulated to the point of inaccessability.

    1. People think the lasers are weapons.
    2. Other people start selling lasers as weapons.
    3. Weapons are constitutionally protected for civilian ownership in all civilized nations.
    4. Ergo - the Lasers can be purchased at your local sporting-goods store after a background check and some paperwork.

    (Author's note, Point #3 is intended to be a bit of a joke. But I expect at least one reader will not read all the way to this disclaimer, instead flaming me good and hard.)

  • by redwoodtree (136298) * on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:01PM (#11223607)
    Given the complexity of tracking a jet plane and the angles involved in getting a beam into a cockpit, one of the most likely conclusions is that this in fact is a malicious threat. It sounds pretty paranoid but heck, someone has obviously gone to some trouble to setup a mechanism that can track a rapidly moving object in flight. I'm glad the FBI is investigating because I fly almost every month and the last thing I want is to wind up in a plane with a blind cabin crew.
  • What about... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ASayre8 (612723)
    One way mirrors on the cockpit windows? Let the Lasers just
  • Can someone who is more familiar with lasers and the associated physics explain why green? What type of laser would this indicate?
    • Re:Why green? (Score:5, Informative)

      by telemonster (605238) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:16PM (#11223723) Homepage
      Green appears the brightest on the human spectrum. Most of these small lasers are DPSS (Diode pumped solid state). If the beam is coherent it is *INDEED* a danger, and nothing scares me more than the thought of hoodlums running around with 600mw "laser pointers".

      Lasers for display are regulated by the Center for Disease and Radiological Health. Your not supposed to direct a laser above 5mw up into the sky.

      At a long distance, the beam definitly becomes incoherent. Gas lasers are considered better than solid state in regards to beam colimation, and without optics my 2.5' long argon tube beam ends up 1' or more wide at a distance of only 1000 feet or so.

      Targeting, no... Someone might manage to cross the planes path, but in order to track a plane I'd iamgine you would need to build a box filled with dirt sitting on innertubes to isolate vibration, then come up with a servo mechanism. I don't think 16 bit DACs would give enough accuracy with glavos.

      Weapons targeting systems do not use visible lasers AFAIK. It would be a giveaway if there was a bright green dot on the target and a green line tracing back to the source.

      Also, laser light is different then searchlights because the light is polarized. So you can see the beam better from one way versus the other.

      • Re:Why green? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by temojen (678985)
        I don't think 16 bit DACs would give enough accuracy with glavos.
        You can get quite a lot of precision with 4 16 bit DACs micro-stepping a stepper motor, especially if you also use a reduction gear.
  • by Nine Tenths of The W (829559) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:04PM (#11223635)
    I have no doubt this will prove about as fruitful as their investigation into Bonsai Kitten
  • Hmm. I dunno. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by valkraider (611225) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:05PM (#11223641) Journal
    This may or may not be a threat. Some interesting thoughts here [laboratorium.net]

    But it seems to be that it would be awful hard for something from the ground to actually hit the inside of the cockpit unless it had some sort of tracking device to track the plane, and was high enough to hit the inside of the cockpit instead of the nose cone (perhaps on a tall building or mountain near an airport).

    I think this could be another tactic to strike fear into the populace.
    • Re:Hmm. I dunno. (Score:3, Informative)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      ...it would be awful hard for something from the ground to actually hit the inside of the cockpit...

      But I've been on many a looping approach where the plane is banked substantially to one side or the other for a good minute or so, during which I'm looking down, at a steep angle, right into business districts, neighborhoods, etc. If my eyes can see the ground, the ground can see my eyes.
      • It is not so much as "impossible" as "improbable without major help, technology, or infrastructure". In the latter, it would seem not too hard to catch or detect anyone doing such.

        The ability of a human with a stealthy hand(s) held laser to actually track and hit a pilot well enough to do damage or create risk at most any airport in the world - is debatable. It *seems* highly unlikely, but then again - I am just a slashdot expert... ;)
  • by v1 (525388) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:09PM (#11223667) Homepage Journal
    I question whether this is a real threat or not. All common laser pointers use laser diodes, which at best can bee columated to a beam a foot or so wide at a half a mile. This virtually eliminates any danger of retinal damage because of how much the beam's power is spread out. The only issue I see is a temporary "flash blindness" like that of getting your picture taken with a flash bulb in use. That's not too far off from getting glare off the hood while driving to work at dawn. If a pilot can't handle that, they have no business flying an airplane.

    That being said though, I still agree that giving a pilot a sudden vision obstacle while they are in the critical stages of landing their airplane is dangerous and should be unlawful.

    Also I agree with an earlier post here that there is zero risk of a sustained illumination of a cockpit window from someone holding a handheld pointer two miles away aiming at a target moving at upwards of 800mph.
  • by Baldrson (78598) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:09PM (#11223669) Homepage Journal
    If the so-called "homeland security" policies were doing their job, rather than trying to take more and civil liberties from US citizens, they'd:
    1. Totally seal the borders
    2. Confiscate and auction off the properties of all employers of illegal aliens to pay the expenses of
      • sending illegals home
      • back taxes and
      • social service costs of supporting illegals to date
    3. provide huge prize incentives for commercial development of alternatives to the fragile air transportation infrastructure
    4. provide huge prize incentives for commercial development of small-capitalization self-sufficiency systems so that small communities if not individual households could provide their basic necessities without reliance on centralized structures
    5. tear down the prison system as unfit for human habitation and construct a new one in which none of
      • prisoner rape or other violence
      • hepatitis C or
      • AIDS
      was a substantial risk and
    6. make sure that when national guardsmen come home from Iraq, trained in urban warfare and all pissed off at having been abused by the government, they at least have a job.
    I know, I know... This is all way too sane for the scum who have occupied the positions of trust and authority within the de facto government of the US.
    • by myowntrueself (607117) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:22PM (#11224193)
      "Totally seal the borders"

      This is the part that I totally agree with; as a non-American I think that the USA *should* immediately seal all of its borders.

      Anyone currently in the USA should not be allowed to leave, and noone should be permitted to enter.

      Al internet connections, phone lines and satellite communications with the USA should be shut down.

      A wall should be built, as high as humanly possible.

      Best for everyone involved.
      • A wall should be built

        Well seig heil to you too, buddy.

        Yeah, it's all a joke until someone rubs your nose in who your jokes make you sound like. But Americans are the ignorant xenophobes, right?

        Then again, I just spent a half hour reading a bunch of people complaining about the size of the first-day tsunami donations, when by the second day they'd increased by an order of magnitude, and when the US is giving more per person than any populous unaffected nation, peppered with assorted whining about how o
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:10PM (#11223676)
    This is serious, but not nearly as serious as what I'd like to do to the pointer-equipped, arrested development imbeciles that always seem to show up in the theater where I've just spent $9.50 to see a film. No doubt they think they're really onto something novel as they draw circles around Gollum's head, or perhaps improve Michael Moore's insufferable visage by doodling on it.

    These punks, with their cheesy dime-store pointers, are eroding our cinemaplex entertainment economy. As they taint our $40 movie dates, though, they're driving me closer and closer to actually buying a big screen at home. Which is good for China, or whoever makes it that week.
    • > This is serious, but not nearly as serious as what I'd like to do to the pointer-equipped, arrested development imbeciles that always seem to show up in the theater where I've just spent $9.50 to see a film. No doubt they think they're really onto something novel as they draw circles around Gollum's head, or perhaps improve Michael Moore's insufferable visage by doodling on it.

      I suspect the anti-aircraft use will turn out to be precisely the same sort of idiots, who would never even have thought of

  • use a laser-reflective material for the cockpits?

    This has been a growing problem recently (this isn't the first time it's happened), so I would hope that someone's already working on such a concept.

    If not for the cockpit glass, then a pair of laser-protected goggles for the pilots?
  • by nizo (81281) *
    Don't commercial airplanes land themselves anyway? How would blinding the pilot cause a problem if this is the case? Now if it is a guide for a surface to air missile, that is a different story.
  • No way... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Quixote (154172) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:15PM (#11223715) Homepage Journal
    There is no way that a hand-held laser can track a plane flying at 300mph at 8500 feet; find the cockpit and stay there for any period of time. If someone can pull that off, make that guy a surgeon. You can barely see a plane at 8500 feet!

    Have they explored onboard possibilities? Some emission coming from one of the onboard instruments?

    • Radar to get a general fix on the plane, telescope for visual. Wouldn't need an expensive radar or telescope, just a general fix.
    • There is no way that a hand-held laser can track a plane flying at 300mph at 8500 feet

      Where does it say that it was a hand-held laser? One of the articles says it'd have to be " fairly sophisticated to track a plane traveling at that altitude". That sure doesn't sound like a hand-held laser to me.

      I would imagine that a good quality laser mounted on a high quality tripod along with a powerful sighting scope wouldn't be all that difficult to whip up. If tv camera people can track the space shuttle from
    • There is no way that a hand-held laser can track a plane flying at 300mph at 8500 feet; find the cockpit and stay there for any period of time.

      Exactly.

      It is being done. Who is doing it, and how are they doing it?

  • Happened to me (Score:4, Informative)

    by HPNpilot (735362) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:22PM (#11223769) Homepage
    One night I was on a CAP SAR flight and we were targeted by such a laser. They can be very bright when your eyes are accustomed to the dark! When we tried to locate the source and got closer, it stopped. It was coming from a residential area. I had spots in my vision like someone took flash photos and I looked into the strobe.

    One note; there was mention in the news of a quote from an FBI agent who said it had to be a sophisticated laser to track a plane for severla seconds at 8500 feet. I disagree. I believe with a braced or tripod mounted unit in combination with the beam divergence holding on target for a few seconds is easy.
  • This whole thing is some serious bullshit - are we really expected to believe that someone can point a laser at a plane the best part of a mile away going at anything over 100mph and actually hit someones eyes (which you cant see) behind a windscreen (which you can barely make out). Even if they were standing in the waiting room facing the parked plane 30 feet away it would be a challenge. If someone was that accurate they would just park near a runway and take pot-shots with a rifle, this is the most absu
    • My only regret is that I have no mod points for you, sir.
    • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:50PM (#11223982)
      Why does everybody think this is just a case of some kid who bought a handheld laser pointer and is trying to point it at an airplane that flew overhead?

      Come on people, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to figure out that a combination of a commercial/scientific laser [coherentinc.com] along with a good quality sighting scope [gunblast.com] mounted on a high quality tripod wouldn't be too difficult or expensive to slap together. Hell, just get a good laser and mount it on top of a good pair of military observation binoculars [opticsplanet.net] and you'd probably be ready to rock & roll.

      It also doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to realize that from a mountain top or other high peak of land you could target aircraft flying directly towards your position from a few miles away. If it's flying in your direction then its horizontal and lateral positions won't change very much so you wouldn't need a sophisticated tracking system. You wouldn't even need a very high position if you intend on targeting aircraft that are landing - just an open area a mile or so from the end of the runway.
  • Laser Dazzler? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JhohannaVH (790228) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:25PM (#11223787) Journal
    Is it possible that someone with military experience or some such? Especially considering Colorado Springs. There's six huge and important military installations [wikipedia.org] within about a 5 mile radius of the COS runways. Not to mention that it's easily accessible by the public, probably one of the worst security features (I used to work for Western Pacific Airlines! :O)!! Interestingly enough, many non-lethal weapons developers are headquartered in the area, to include Jaycor, Loral, and Raytheon. It may be possible that someone or someone's was able to gain access to a Laser Dazzler [newhousenews.com] and is 'having some fun', or causing major trouble. Interesting thought... I saw these on a program on History Channel, and they were pretty amazing, and could possibly result in such things.
  • Another similar incident is being reported to have occurred [wcbs880.com] Wednesday night at Teterboro airport, according to AP. Considering that some of the approach routes run pretty low over I-80, and not far from several other major highways, this could potentially be a Very Bad Thing (tm).
  • IRTFA, My opinion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by telemonster (605238) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:31PM (#11223839) Homepage
    Okay, it would be my guess that someone used a high powered YAG laser or maybe a large DPSS. I seriously doubt this was from a handheld unit.

    The beams could make it into the cockpit upon approach I believe.

    You have to be an idiot to do such a thing. The "pulsing" factor makes me think it might have been a pulsed YAG system, since many are triggered by flashlamps.

    Crazy stuff, and it will make it difficult for those of us into lasers for entertainment.

    For a good pic of a YAG on a clear night (this isn't mine):
    A flashlamp triggered yag [757.org]

    Argon on foggy night [757.org]

    I have some pics from playing around here:

    http://users.757.org/~ethan/pics/lasers/

    Don't forget to check out www.linux-laser.org, an opensource linux laser platform. The funny thing is the only major software to use the device so far is for Windows XP.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @08:56PM (#11224016) Homepage Journal
    Cant have something in the hands of the private citizen that MIGHT be used improperly can we?

    For get the multitude of legal uses, if there is ONE illegal use, we must take it off the market. And investigate anyone hat purchased the product before the ban..

    Must protect society...
  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:25PM (#11224203)
    Anyone remember this story a year or two back? It was only covered by a few conservative news sites about a navy pilot being blinded by a laser from a suspected Russian spy vessel. [house.gov]

    WASHINGTON -- A San Diego-based Navy officer whose eyes were damaged by an apparent laser beam from a suspected Russian spy ship said yesterday he was injured by what was an act of war, terrorism or criminal conduct.

  • Non-threat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crumley (12964) * on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:59PM (#11224421) Homepage Journal
    As explained in the Ask the Pilot [salon.com] column, this threat is severely over-hyped. The probability of success is so low compared to the risk of detection, that its unlikely that terrorsits would try this tact.
  • by human bean (222811) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:20PM (#11224542)
    ... Just keep the same old principle in mind that has been in use since WWI (Yes, that's right. The early nineteen hundreds).

    "Speed of motion" (as opposed to actual velocity) is apparent. When the aircraft is coming toward or away from you, it's speed of motion is less than if it was passing side to side. Just get in line with the sucker as it lines up on approach. Fire toward it.

    Rifle fire has brought down military jets with this technique. It's as old as the first biplanes, and still works.

    Chances are pretty good that you can do this with a proper rifle scope and a small hand LASER. As far as brightness goes, remember, the LASER (even at five milliwatts) is focused tightly. The beam is usually also parallel to a good extent. I can verify that at five miles on a bright day a five milliwatt LASER is the brightest thing on the horizon IF YOU GET LINED UP WITH IT.
  • Laser Dazzle Weapons (Score:4, Interesting)

    by frank249 (100528) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @11:05PM (#11224848)
    As far back as 1981, the British Royal Navy tested a top secret weapon system called 'Laser Dazzle Sight,'(LDS). [deepblacklies.co.uk] and they used it during the Falklands War where high speed, wave-skipping Argentinean pilots, met a dazzling array of laser beams designed to blind them.

    According to this Royal School of Artillery paper [atra.mod.uk] 'The most likely choice of lasers for a dazzle weapon would be
    Argon (458 - 515 nm, blue/green) or Ne YAG freq doubled(532 nm, green).'

    According to the Federation of American Scientists [fas.org] In the 1970's it was claimed that Chinese soldiers were blinded by Soviet-built laser systems during the China-Vietnam war. During the Iran-Iraq War, over 4,000 Iranian soldiers sustained injuries due to Iraqi laser systems. Throughout the 1980's, the Soviet Union were long suspected of directing lasers at US spyplanes. Today anti-personnel laser weapons are inexpensive, sold openly by the Third World, have line-of-sight aiming, and are capable of producing catastrophic results if used against aircrews and sensors in flight.

    In 1989 a US-USSR bilateral agreement imposed restrictions on the use of low-energy lasers. In 1989 the International Committee of the Red Cross called for multi-lateral controls.

    On 13 October 1995 the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV) [makeashorterlink.com] was proposed. In 1998 it became international law but Human Rights Watch [commondreams.org] is concerned that the US is developing Dazzle weapons that do not cause permanent blindness and would circumvent the blinding weapons agreement.

    Now while the threat from laser weapons are real, I think the odds are greater that a real terrorist would use a man portable anti-aircraft missle.
  • hysteria (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeif1k (809151) on Friday December 31, 2004 @12:38AM (#11225379)
    There is no evidence that that is possible even if you look directly into fairly powerful laser pointers (many milliwatts). In order to harm someone's eyesight in the cockpit of a moving aircraft from miles away, you would need a fairly powerful laser and you would need to aim it accurately. I would guess that there are a lot simpler and cheaper ways to interfere with aircraft operations.

    However, even though there is no evidence of actual injury, people still report getting injured by laser pointers all the time. That suggests that there is a kind of fear and hysteria about these devices (maybe caused by too much SciFi) that now seems to be cross-breeding with the terrorism scares.

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