Home » News » The Defense Biz » Lasing Airplanes Ain’t Cool, Kids

Lasing Airplanes Ain’t Cool, Kids

by Ward Carroll on October 26, 2012

This from Military.com’s news page:

A Coast Guard helicopter crew was targeted by an individual with a laser pointer while flying nearly two miles offshore of Oahu, late Tuesday, October 23.

The lased MH-65 Dolphin helicopter was forced to return to Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii. The crew’s flight mechanic and rescue swimmer were affected, compromising their abilities to perform duties.

“Whether this was a malicious or just irresponsible act, it is critical that the public be aware of the seriousness of lasing an aircraft,” said Capt. Timothy Gilbride, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point. “Not only does it risk the lives of the aircrew, it can delay rescue missions or disable crews, risking the lives of distressed mariners.”

Laser pointers can cause glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision, all causing a great danger to the crew. If any aircrew member’s vision is compromised during a flight, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort their mission. This hinders the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to people in distress, training and homeland security missions.

Additionally, aircrew members are taken off flight duty for a minimum of 24 hours. They must have their eyes dilated and be cleared by a doctor before flying again.

Nothing funny about hazarding aircrews or folks on the ground who might be hurt in the event of a crash.  Further, if the fear of being an inconsiderate asshole isn’t enough, perhaps the legal ramifications might work.  As the article points out, it’s a federal crime, as well as violation of most states’ laws, to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft.

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Humble Badger October 26, 2012 at 9:17 am

Yes I know this is serious, but haven't we just given the Chinese a cost effective way to disable our aircrews. They only cost about $30 a pop.


Azorean October 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

It's not like they didn't know it before…


tmb2 October 26, 2012 at 11:55 am

Aircraft lasing by knuckleheads on the ground has been a problem since laserpointers were invented.


carloscardoso October 26, 2012 at 9:24 am

Sniper pods, FLIRS and a nice Hellfire. Make lasering aircrafts a terrorist act and give the pilots the right to self defense. Problem solved.


blight_ October 26, 2012 at 9:30 am

Mount a bigger laser and blind whoever's shooting at you.

Didn't the PRC develop lasers for blinding? It was all the rage in the '90s.

Edit: I think finding the guy who did it, flying them two miles out and dropping them into the water to swim to shore would be an acceptable punishment. Depending on how badly you want to punish them, you can either do this when the tide is going in…or when the tide is going out…

However, someone might say it is cruel and unusual. Michael Phelps wouldn't think so, but…


snore October 26, 2012 at 9:53 am

why waste the fuel, an 8 ft length of rope and a sturdy branch would solve the problem much more efficiently.


Chops October 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

Drop em in by the Great Barrier reef–playground of great whites


tiger October 27, 2012 at 8:05 am

Guys, we still have a little thing called the Constitution. Hawaii is not Somalia.


blight_ October 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

But we must have our Sharia Law!


tiger October 27, 2012 at 8:02 am

I doubt the ACLU would want you blowing up a backyard in Hawaii without trial…..


Matrix3692 October 26, 2012 at 10:10 am

The problem is that there are too many kids out there that think there’s no big deal lasing other people(even in the eye). When i was about ten, a friend of mine brought a laser pointer and begun lasing others around him, i told him that lasing other people might accidentally hurt someone, and guess what? dude point the laser directly at my eye in point blank range, luckily it’s a low powered one or i might be wearing an eye patch today.


Azorean October 26, 2012 at 11:43 am

That brings us to the other problem… laser pointers shouldn't be available to kids.


Tinto October 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm

YOU mean the guy still has his front teeth, loosing them a very possible result of lasing someone.


Matrix3692 October 28, 2012 at 12:01 am

unfortunately, that friend of mine still had all his teeth intact, but he stop after a while, probably bored of lasing someone………


WALT VANCURA November 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm



Jayson October 26, 2012 at 10:48 am

Isn't there a filter they can be applied to a/c windows blocking out these lasers at their light wavelengths? I remember the green ones are more notorious than the red but either are bad when used by the simple minded on flying a/c.


tmb2 October 26, 2012 at 11:57 am

Some helicopter crews wear special glasses or visors that can filter some lasers.


Lance October 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Same idea of banning guns is the same about banning laser it wont work bad people will get them and use them for mischievous purposes any way.


Citizen of the world October 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm

“Same idea of banning guns is the same about banning laser it wont work bad people will get them and use them for mischievous purposes any way”

For both guns and lasers, that assumes that most bad acts are premeditated by bad people who plan far enough in advance to acquire the weapon. IIRC, most gun violence are spur of the moment acts of anger by people who know each other, especially family. Not having a gun in the house in that case can save a life. Not having a laser around when some idiot feels mischievous may protect the pilots.


Lance October 26, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Doesnt work someone wants one they will get one illegal or not. crime happen no matter how much fascist like your idea tries to kill freedom.


Dean October 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm

What exactly is the image at the top supposed to be? Is that supposed to be some kind of image of a retina affected by a laser? Looks fishy and purely rhetorical, like the egg frying in a pan to compare the effects of drugs on the brain. Wild Bill is onto something: It takes a rather powerful laser to not just be seen, but do damage to the retina, at two miles. I'm not saying lasing a Coastie is cool, but gathering the posse to string up every kid with a classroom pointer is way off track. Also, since it has been observed impairing vision with lasers is not new is military aviation, am I to believe there is *no* simple countermeasure like a selective visor filter or coating on windows, etc.? Am I to believe a $100 million jet can be defeated with something I can buy at a neighborhood convenience store counter?


Jmos October 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm

The image at the top is the effects of a class 4 laser on the human eye blood vessels are broken,the image recepters at the back of the eye are damaged, and the eye has bleed out it is not a good day. And as the light from the laser is it is concentrated to a really strong beam so it’s like having music on at low levels for a lightbulb where a laser would be like maxing out the volume.


Sam October 27, 2012 at 12:56 am

I'm a corporate pilot and I have been hit twice. Once north of Atlanta and once over eastern Long Island. Both times green, about 2-3 miles distance and under a second exposure each. What does it look like? If you've flown at night then you've seen neighborhoods lit by streetlights and chances are you've seen a bright video billboard, too. The laser is a tiny point of light that appears in a neighborhood but brighter than the brightest billboard. About the same time you realize what it is, the pain starts and you look away.

It freaking hurts. For hours.

It's not high-tech military gear or hunting equipment, it is simple damned laser pointers. Yes, they really do shine that far.


Jake November 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Agreed. I'm a military pilot and have had this happen on 3 seperate occasions. Once over Greece the light must have been around 4 or 5 miles away, and it lights up the entire cockpit. It is distracting and dangerous. On another occasion we were flying a low-level through mountainous terrain, and a few seconds worth of distraction in that environment can be fatal. Luckily I recognized what was going on quickly enough to conciously force myself not to focus on the distracting light or detrmining where it was coming from.

Household lasers. I assume these are jerk-off kids that need their asses kicked before someone gets hurt.

And yes, we had glasses we could take with us that would protect our eyes against this threat, but we only carried them if we thought there might be a laser threat. The glasses were bulky and uncomfortable and folks didn't like wearing them. NVGs also protect your eyes against the damaging effects of laser pointers.


blight_ November 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Question: How hard is it to accurately track and place a laser pointer onto the cockpit of an aircraft from far away if held by hand? Some amateur waving a laser pointer could conceivably point it at an aircraft, but what kind of accuracy is needed to lase a pilot's eyes? Does the laser lose coherency enough that pinpoint tracking and accuracy isn't needed, but is still powerful enough to affect a pilot?


duuude October 27, 2012 at 2:59 am

I wonder why if it's possible for missiles to be guided by laser, if it's also possible to develop missiles that can home in on the source, like how AGM-88 homes in on radar emitters.


Matrix3692 October 27, 2012 at 5:04 am

well in my opinion, because when the laser travels towards the target, it has a slight (very very very…… slight)spread angle, so when it hits the target, the projected area is slightly bigger than the source, but given enough range, it could be a significant difference, so it’s more easy to guide the missile towards the target, as the projected area is larger thus more easier to pick up on sensors, as compared to the source, which might not be larger than a pinhead.

but please correct me if i’m wrong, light and laser isn’t my field.


tiger October 27, 2012 at 8:11 am

Duh….. That is how laser guided bombs work. You paint the target & the seeker homes in on the spot. Be done for 40 years.


jacen October 31, 2012 at 10:47 am

He's talking about homing in on the source/emitter of the laser, not what the laser dot is on.


torquewrench October 27, 2012 at 6:21 pm

It’s a serious problem, and if left alone we eventually will have a loss of an aircraft with all hands due to a flight crew being blinded at a critical stage of flight. Proposed steps:

– Quick response airborne police to run offenders to ground

– Lengthy hard-time prison sentences starting with the first offense.

– Prominent public service advertisements showing those thus convicted

“High power laser pointer: 100 milliwatts. Cost off of ebay: $35. Time in prison for shining it at a plane: 10 years before parole.”


Guest October 29, 2012 at 8:49 am

You can now purchase a 1W handheld green laser on Ebay for under $200. A 1W laser is what the major mountaintop telescopes use to define air conditions all the way out to space. The advertiser even states you can start stuff including wood on fire with it. Oh yes, it can reach several miles out and still be blinding. The ultimate limit is probably around 5-7 miles dependent on humidity conditions.


Tad October 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm

So let me get this straight. With a $20 laser pointer, and in the relative haze of the near-shore environment, and from two miles away, someone sent military helicopters back to base? Why the *@#%(& are we spending gazillions of dollars on military hardware when it's this easy to compromise a mission?!


blight_ October 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm
dba7 October 30, 2012 at 1:34 am

While reading 'one hundred days' (by Adm Sandy Woodward, commander of UK Royal Navy during Falkland war), I learned UK naval vessels had laser pointers installed. They were to be used to try to blind enemy pilots attempting to attack the UK naval vessel.

I also heard N Korean jets often point targeting laser at USFK chopper crew and so they are always required to wear protective shield.


Corey October 30, 2012 at 8:31 pm

The public has access to laser's that are farm more potent than most people realize.

These are the lasers that can do real damage to aircraft at range and are the ones that articles like this refer to. Truthfully, there really isn't a need for the general public to have access to lasers this powerful.


dennis October 31, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Yeah, but try telling the public that lasers should be outlawed. You will have people screaming about their "rights"


Jmos October 31, 2012 at 10:31 pm

It says you have the right to bear arms not lasers


Jmos October 31, 2012 at 10:32 pm

It says you have the right to bear arms not lasers.


idiots need a life October 31, 2012 at 10:19 pm

to the idiot that said that this is some conspiracy theory that ground laser pointers can't cause eye damage. http://www.eyesfirst.com/archieve/106


Luke November 1, 2012 at 8:39 am

We can't even put a mass murderer on trial whose crime was committed in plain sight on a military base three years ago. What makes you think they could even FIND the kid pointing a laser? Oh wait, I know! I bet some Congressman will push a billion-dollar contract for a defense contractor in his district to develop equipment for these aircraft to be able to defend against this.


Airlifter November 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

suggest engineering a preventative or mitigating layer into the aircraft windscreens or opt for one or all aircrews to wear a protective eyeware within certain altitudes. sometimes advancing technology such as through laser is an achilles heel


Jeff Edwards November 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm

I suggest that if you hear of someone doing this, you find out if it's true, and if so you beat the shit out of them.


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tmb2 October 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm

There are laser pointers you use in the office that can shine for 20 feet, and lasers you can mount to a weapon that go for a few thousand feet. I own a rifle-mounted laser (about the size of a thick Sharpie marker) that in the dust of Afghanistan was able to shine a solid beam for at least a mile.


EJ257 October 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I think it depends on the laser. I have a tiny one about the size of a AA battery, output is only 5mW and it would put a red dot several hundred feet away. The 1 watt ones you see people use to pop balloons and light candles on youtube will certainly reach a mile or more.


jamFRIDGE October 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Actually, for $70 you can get one visible from space


Doubtom October 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm

You're right! Most here aren't familiar with the limited range of the lasers available for sale to the public. To affect an A/C at a distance of two miles would require a great deal more power than is available to any hand held device. This is either a case of overkill on the Coast Guard's reaction or clearly someone was using a much higher powered laser than is available to the general public, much less children.


robert mackey October 27, 2012 at 4:14 am

and where do you buy that one at,id love one like that for ufo,s,usually you can tell a aircraft by its becon lights,and isd never point at them,but how ever in seward ak,i pointed one at what i thought was a satilight,then ten more craft appeared all over the sky powering up,then went dark,now i doubt,they were aircraft.id say ufo,s or either govt experimental craft they are not talking about,and,way up here in alaska,off the beaten flight paths,of regular jets or planes,it was uncanny,and no im not smoking any thing nor on any drugs/im a ex firefighter medic retired,,if thats so we have a area type 51 base here close by


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