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Shark Crime Transportation

Laser Strikes On Aircraft Increasing In Frequency (usatoday.com) 161

puddingebola writes: The FAA is reporting a record number of laser strikes on aircraft for 2015. From the article: "The Federal Aviation Administration recorded 5,352 laser strikes through Oct. 16, up from 2,837 for all of 2010. ... Some airports have reported more than 100 laser strikes this year: Los Angeles had 197; Phoenix had 183; Houston had 151; Las Vegas had 132, and Dallas-Fort Worth had 115. On July 15, during a 90-minute period, 11 airliners and one military aircraft reported laser strikes near New York City-area airports. Those incidents remain under investigation by the FAA, FBI and New Jersey state police."
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Laser Strikes On Aircraft Increasing In Frequency

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 13, 2015 @03:22PM (#50925063)
    I mean, if they keep increasing in frequency, eventually someone'll just fire a UV laser and nobody'll be able to see it. The next guy brings an X-Ray laser and it's a self-limiting problem, at least for everyone within a few thousand feet of ground zero.
  • by Arkh89 ( 2870391 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @03:27PM (#50925127)

    These stories get more and more attention of the media and every time they will emphasize that this is considered as a federal crime for which penalty is severe fines and possibly jail time. But this does not seem to be at all effective with the population.
    The question is, are people doing this out of a really bad intention or are just not intelligent enough to understand the risks and the sentences they are facing for, literally, no personal gain?

    • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @03:30PM (#50925167)

      >> are people doing this out of a really bad intention or are just not intelligent enough to understand the risks and the sentences they are facing

      Both. These are the same people who like tossing bricks onto cars from the overpass.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Deadstick ( 535032 )

        These are the same people who like tossing bricks onto cars from the overpass.

        Or any other type of vandal: they're losers who have no other way to get the thrill of imposing their will. It's their only shot at being alpha males.

    • "are just not intelligent enough to understand the risks and the sentences they are facing"

      On the contrary, they are intelligent enough to understand that regardless of what the penalty or sentence they face pretty much no risk. It isn't as if the guy in the jet knows the address of the tiny spec below that fired a laser up at him.

      If anything this is probably the jet equivalent of road rage, people who are sick and tired of the damn aircraft noise polluting their environment.
  • It's the only way to be sure.

  • by Matheus ( 586080 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @03:30PM (#50925163) Homepage

    So do they count a laser the happens to be shined 'near' a plane or are these all directly aimed at/in the cockpit? They specifically not that none of the over 5k "strikes" caused any injury so if any actually penetrated the cockpit they didn't hit any eyes. I'm picturing pilots reporting a laser that they happen to see nearby. I have an extremely powerful laser that finds itself pointing at the sky all the time. I'd never shine one at a plane anyway but most of the time I have comfort in the fact my laser shining straight upward couldn't hit a pilot's eyes anyway unless they happened to be banking at the wrong time. Only time I'd even have a good angle is on take-off or landing. SO long rambling run-on question later: What do they define as a "Laser Strike" how intentional / directed does it have to be or are the standards for a "strike" fairly low?

    • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @03:44PM (#50925295) Journal
      I consider a laser strike to be a laser weapon being used to shoot down a plane. If they are calling people pointing at constellations who can't even see the planes at night "laser strikes" they should be prepared to be laughed into we don't care mode by pretty much everyone. It isn't like these are attacks.
      • If they are calling people pointing at constellations who can't even see the planes at night "laser strikes" they should be prepared to be laughed into we don't care mode by pretty much everyone.

        This is interesting. What does pointing a laser at a constellation do for you? And how is it that you can see something 400 light years away, but not a plane with blinking lights at 30,000 feet?

        • Do me a favor and gather up the wattage of the sun vs the wattage of the brightest light on a plane. Next get me the diameter of the sun compared with that of said blinking light.

          Also, there are these things called clouds. If you could get me some data on how many nights a year one of them is large enough to obscure a plan while not being large enough to obstruct vision of the entire sky I'd appreciate that. Once we've got all this information compiled please repeat the question if you still have one.
          • Do me a favor and gather up the wattage of the sun vs the wattage of the brightest light on a plane. Next get me the diameter of the sun compared with that of said blinking light.

            I wasn't trying to challenge you, I just really didn't know.

            On a clear night, how do you see the beam part of the laser? And how do you see the "pointer" end of the laser if the constellation is 400 light years away? Does it bounce off something in the general direction of the constellation?

            • "I wasn't trying to challenge you, I just really didn't know."

              In that case I sincerely apologize for the snarky tone but instead hope my snarky response was at least informative. In short, the light on a plane is tiny and low power relative to sheer enormity and light output of a star the difference is vast even from so far away and there are so many they fill the entire sky where the plane is in just one place and easily hidden by cloud cover.

              You can see the pointer because even though the sky might seem c
              • Also often a night seems clear but there is still plenty of wispy cloud cover which will highlight where a beam is pointing.

                I lived about 10 blocks West of the Sears tower and used to take a cheap laser pointer to the park with me when I walked my dog, because she likes to chase it around (yeah, I heard it wasn't really safe, but the dog is 16 years old and she doesn't seem concerned about the possible dangers).

                I can see the pointer on the side of buildings blocks away, but I can't see any beam. Is that be

                • The color of the laser matters, too. Geeks pointing out constellations are likely using a green laser. A green laser will be more visible both because they are mostly just available as higher-quality devices than the average red laser (which can get as cheap as $2) and because your eyes have more cones to sense green light.
                • " If I get in trouble, I'll tell them you said it was OK."

                  I officially endorse that is it green and that I've heard all my life that green is good for the Earth. Also, I read that on the Internet so it must be true.

                  Every time you use a green laser a Native American stripper walking down the highway in leathers loses his tears.
    • I believe a laser strike has to effect the cockpit. A strike does not have to cause injury to be a problem. A pilot's vision can be dazzled/distracted without being injured.

      I have an extremely powerful laser that finds itself pointing at the sky all the time.

      If you are anywhere near an airport I would be careful.

    • What do you count as injury? I've heard stories about lasers aimed at aircraft where they reported the pilot was temporarily dazzled by the light shining into the cockpit. Probably any laser beam visible to the pilot would be considered close enough to report. If your laser really isn't pointed anywhere near any planes I'm sure the pilots aren't seeing anything.

    • by WheezyJoe ( 1168567 ) <fegg@NOsPaM.excite.com> on Friday November 13, 2015 @04:20PM (#50925651)

      Maybe this video [nbcnewyork.com] will help you, some schmuck lighting up a news chopper, caught on film. It doesn't take much, particularly at night. In the video, when the laser hits just right, the entire canopy lights up green. Even through the video camera, the light shows as very, very bright, bright enough to burn the eyelid [arstechnica.com] and cornea leading to blindness [cnn.com] (which is not cool when you need to be piloting an aircraft).

      It should be common knowledge by now that this is stupid stupid shit. It's only sheer luck that this idiocy hasn't incapacitated a pilot to the point that the aircraft went down.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Just re-read this thread now that people have posted their views on the subject. They're ignorant, entitled, and have no intent to change any of this.

    • When they come knocking at your door you can tell us all about it. And how does an obj that has zero intelligence find itself pointing up at the sky all the time? The article say pointing a laser AT planes is a crime btw.
    • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @04:39PM (#50925799)

      I've been lasered when flying my plane. The beam is big at these long distances, so ti isn't a tiny beam going into your eye, it lights up the cockpit and looks like a very bright point of light. Since your eye focuses the light to a point, lasers can be dangerous at fairly low power levels.

      In a plane even if the beam is not damaging it is very distracting, and distraction is a major cause of aircraft accidents. in my case they kept the beam on the plane for many seconds so it was clearly intentional.

      Its pretty common - several pilots I've spoken to have been lasered. This is the second time its happened to me.

      • I've been lasered when flying my plane. The beam is big at these long distances, so ti isn't a tiny beam going into your eye, it lights up the cockpit and looks like a very bright point of light. Since your eye focuses the light to a point, lasers can be dangerous at fairly low power levels.

        In a plane even if the beam is not damaging it is very distracting, and distraction is a major cause of aircraft accidents. in my case they kept the beam on the plane for many seconds so it was clearly intentional.

        Its pretty common - several pilots I've spoken to have been lasered. This is the second time its happened to me.

        Sounds like there's money to be made by an enterprising individual that creates a coating that blocks key frequencies or at least scatters them reasonably well without obstructing the wind screen's optics too much. Being that this is dealing with avionics, I'd imagine the testing and licensing would take years though. Do you think pilots would find any value in that at some reasonable (relatively speaking - owning a plane or boat is like hooking your wallet up to a vacuum) price?

        • by flux ( 5274 )

          I imagine it's going to be nigh impossible to make laser shielding without knowing the exact wavelength of the laser in question, and that can of course vary.

          Unless you go the exterior camera + VR helmet route. Which could be cool.

        • It would be like making the cockpit glass out the same stuff they make laser safety goggles out of. The thing is, you can't easily filter out just one wavelength of light, so the safety goggles for green lasers are orange tinted, and the red laser glasses are all green tinted. I'm guessing most pilots don't want orange or green windows on their plane. And if you wanted to filter both the red and green wavelengths you might as well just paint over the windows.

          Maybe if they actually build those planes wher

        • Pilots could wear laser goggles (cheaper than doing all the glass) but that only works if you know the laser wavelengths. There are too many different wavelength lasers to block them all

        • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

          The problem is that the coating also blocks part of the visible light. And pilots want to see outside as well as they can. I don't thing it is worth it : as GP said, lasers are "just" distracting, and relatively uncommon.
          Goggles are better IMHO as they can be but and removed as needed, like sunglasses. And because they are not part of the plane, they are certainly less of a hassle regulation-wise.

    • I don't think pilots would be able to see the laser unless the beams are _really_ close to the plane.

      If the laser beam is passing through empty space, there's no way to see it. The beam has to hit something to be visible. The atmosphere has some stuff in it, even on a clear night, which is why shining laser pointers at the sky is useful for pointing out starts. However, my guess is that the beam will only be visible to people nearly colinear with the beam and won't be like a blaster shot that's visible even

    • by Toad-san ( 64810 )

      What possible rational, justifiable reason could you have to point an extremely powerful laser at the sky all the time? Unless you're using it in conjunction with a very sophisticated observatory, that is, and those all have FAA danger zones.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @03:39PM (#50925239) Homepage
    As an engineer ive been against seeing this kind of increase in frequency since DAY ONE. from 450 to 520 nanometer was appalling enough but 600 nanometer?! seriously? you kids messing around with those diodes are playing with fire.
  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@poetiMONETc.com minus painter> on Friday November 13, 2015 @03:39PM (#50925243)

    Where are the statistics about the blinded pilots and crashed planes? Without these facts there is no way to tell if there is a problem.

    • 1 is too many.
      There is still a general mistrust about air flight. All the statistics show it is the safest way to travel, but flying isn't a natural means of transportation for us, so we are naturally a little bit scared of it. Even seasoned pilots realize the bit of fear when they fly. Having anything go wrong does increase stress in the pilot. Their skills usually means nothing happens, but if just 1 plane goes down, it will scare people from flying.

    • by amRadioHed ( 463061 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @04:20PM (#50925655)

      Anything that distracts the pilots during landing is a problem, it doesn't matter if it's resulted in any crashes yet or not.

    • by slazzy ( 864185 )
      You don't have to be blinded by a laser to receive eye damage. How much laser eye damage would you like to receive before you're allowed to complain?
    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      Stupid position to take. How many air crashes do you think are due to a single cause? The answer is very few, most of them are caused by a series of small events that, individually, would not cause a problem. Unnecessary conversation in the cockpit does not cause a crash. Unnecessary conversation that causes you to miss some other minor, easily correctable, event - crash. Laser by itself, unlikely to cause a crash. Laser temporarily blinding or distracting the pilot from something else - crash.

      So it

    • There's been at least one pilot injured, perhaps permanently [washingtontimes.com] by a laser.

      My suggestion is to develop a highly precise retroreflector material [wikipedia.org], like used in road sign paint or bicycle reflectors (they appear bright because they reflect your headlights back at you) but much more precise. Then paint all aircraft with this material. Then the idiots shining lasers at planes will end up blinding themselves.
    • by swell ( 195815 )

      For those who haven't seen a modern passenger plane or most any other plane, you should know that it is not easy for the pilot to see the ground (where lasers might come from). Some reports say that 'the cabin was lit up' from a laser (because it hit the ceiling of the cabin), but it is very difficult to strike a pilot's eyes from a ground based laser unless the plane is banking sharply in your favor and the pilot is not looking at her instruments.

      Additionally, the vast majority of lasers available to the

  • The solution is obvious, require registration of all lasers. It's going to work for "drones," right?
  • So they've gone from the red end of the spectrum to the ultraviolet??? Egads!

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @04:11PM (#50925585)

    I live about 5 miles from a commercial airport and planes fly over all the time.

    I'm curious how someone on the ground is able to aim at the windshield of the cockpit from the ground. It seems like geometry of shining a laser at a plane would be such that if you were reasonably close to a plane, the windshield wouldn't be line of sight to an observer on the ground.

    Maybe if you were fairly close, at a higher elevation and the plane was taking off pretty much in your direction.

    I can see how helicopters or other aircraft with more of a completely transparent nose would be vulnerable to ground observers shining lasers, but jetliners look to me like they have the cockpit windshield on the top half of the nose hemisphere.

    What am I missing here?

    • I'm curious how someone on the ground is able to aim at the windshield of the cockpit from the ground.

      What am I missing here?

      You're not missing anything. It's very hard most of the time to hit the windshield of an aircraft from any nearby point on the ground. The hardest part, though, is keeping the laser pointed at the target. It's essentially impossible. People have tested this repeatedly - it's on YouTube. The bottom line is that a handheld laser can only ever manage to very briefly flash the cockpit of a flying aircraft, and the beam intensity at such a range is non-dangerous even if the laser is quite powerful. It may

    • I'm curious how someone on the ground is able to aim at the windshield of the cockpit from the ground.

      It's not just planes. I live near a university medical center and the medical choppers are always flying around at night. I've even seen them land in the baseball field at the park (I don't know why) and there's a lot more exposure in those cockpits. (Are helicopter cabins called cockpits too?)

    • but jetliners look to me like they have the cockpit windshield on the top half of the nose hemisphere.

      Banking turns to reverse direction and line up with the runway come to mind. Last time I flew, the plane made a pretty sharp turn on landing and I could definitely see down into the yards of the houses below. Cockpits have side windows too, and definitely would have allowed line of sight for some asshat down below to shine a laser in there.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @05:57PM (#50926349)

      I'm curious how someone on the ground is able to aim at the windshield of the cockpit from the ground. It seems like geometry of shining a laser at a plane would be such that if you were reasonably close to a plane, the windshield wouldn't be line of sight to an observer on the ground.

      Simple geometry says if the pilot can see the ground, a laser on the ground can reach his eyes. Anyhow, a disturbing fraction of laser strikes are happening as planes are on final approach for landing. Their proximity, slower speed, and predicable path makes them more tempting targets at that stage of the flight. And it's precisely that stage where there's the slimmest margin for recovery should an incident occur.

      I doubt a laser alone will bring down an airliner (there are two pilots specifically so one can take over if the other is disabled). But if the pilots are busy dealing with another problem, a laser strike may be the critical factor which pushes the situation over the threshold from a safe emergency landing to a crashed airplane. If you've read any airliner accident reports, it's almost always a combination of multiple factors which cause the plane to crash. if any one of those factors hadn't happened, the plane wouldn't have crashed.

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        I expect the furor is not over blinding pilots (as the first poster points out, that would be like hitting a keyhole from the wrong direction) but rather, the potential for "painting targets" and fear of terrorists with shoulder-launched missiles.

  • Most laser pointers are class IIIb laser devices. The class III means not at all eye safe (though it isn't a burn hazard and you don't have to worry about specular reflection from a target other than a mirror.) The b part means that the manufacturers spread some money around to come up with a class of lasers called, "sure it isn't eye safe but really no one is going to shine it directly in their eyes, will they?" But now they are so cheap that people can buy them as if they were toys. What do you think the

    • by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @05:10PM (#50926021)

      Most laser pointers are class IIIb laser devices.

      IIIa, not IIIb. The CDRH requires that handheld pointing lasers meet the IIIa classification, which means less than 5mW output power among other things. Red laser pointers virtually all comply with this. Green pointers are hit-or-miss, since the cheap DPSS laser inside has highly variable power output depending on unpredictable factors. In my experience measuring the power output of green pointers (and I've measured a lot of 'em), they are generally 3-5mW but sometimes you get a hot one that pushes 5-10mW. They can all be cranked up with tinkering though, sometimes to 100mW or more! It's the tweaked green pointers and black-market IIIb and IV devices that cause some concern. 5mW in the eyeball is extremely unpleasant, but does not cause retinal damage - especially with the poor beam quality (and thus large focal spot size) of handheld lasers. A tweaked-out DPSS pointer running tens of milliwatts can definitely cause instant permanent damage at short range though, and the 500mW to 1.5W blue diodes are quite dangerous (but totally awesome).

      Here's the thing, though: None of these lasers are really dangerous at long range. The beam quality is universally terrible, which results in high divergence and therefore large beam diameter at long range. The total amount of light produced by even the most powerful handheld lasers is not very much, and quickly loses its brilliance when spread over a circle a few meters in diameter. At one mile, a 2mrad beam will be approximately 10 feet in diameter. A 1W laser would then have an intensity of 0.138W/m^2, or 0.0138mW/cm^2. That's nothing. The sun is over 100 times brighter than that.

      • That's one of the things no one seems to mention. The media seems to play it up like it's people messing around and pointing at planes with $10 laser pointers from the office supply store but it's pretty obvious that whoever is doing this has some pretty serious equipment. It kind of surprises me that there's that many people out there that have this kind of equipment that also feel the need to point it at aircraft.

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