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N C More
2004-Dec-30, 02:56 AM
Take a look at this story. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,142867,00.html) Can lasers be used to disrupt planes in flight?

The Bad Astronomer
2004-Dec-30, 03:31 AM
I don't know anything about the story, but the answer to your question is "yes". Big lasers can easily blind a pilot. NASA uses lasers to get the range of satellites, and has to be careful when pointing them.

In a related item, when I was in Australia visiting the Tidbinbilla radio telescope station, they told me they have to be careful when transmitting to distant spacecraft with the 70 meter dish-- the microwave energy from the dish can fry aircraft electronics! :o

Cylinder
2004-Dec-30, 04:21 AM
Take a look at Can lasers be used to disrupt planes in flight? (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,142867,00.html)

ICRC: New Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/iwpList153/D7A6A26E31A44739C1256B66005A07B4)

International Conference of the Red Cross narrative of the 1995 adoption of the Geneva Conventions Protocol IV banning the use blinding lasers as weapons.


Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV)
Adopted 13 October 1995

Article 1
It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices. The High Contracting Parties shall not transfer such weapons to any State or non-State entity.

Article 2
In the employment of laser systems, the High Contracting Parties shall take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidence of permanent blindness to unenhanced vision. Such precautions shall include training of their armed forces and other practical measures.

Article 3
Blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of the legitimate military employment of laser systems, including laser systems used against optical equipment, is not covered by the prohibition of this Protocol.

Article 4
For the purpose of this protocol "permanent blindness" means irreversible and uncorrectable loss of vision which is seriously disabling with no prospect of recovery. Serious disability is equivalent to visual acuity of less than 20/200 Snellen measured using both eyes.

The article also provides some examples of blinding laser development by China and the US.


Between the end of the fourth meeting of Governmental Experts and the Review Conference itself there were indications that two types of portable laser weapons, ostensibly or allegedly intended for anti-personnel use, were at the point of manufacture and sale.

The first concerned a laser marketed by Norinco, a Chinese company, at an arms fair in South-East Asia in spring 1995. The device, called a "Portable Laser Disturber", was described in the sales leaflet asfollows: "one of its major applications is, by means of high-power laser pulses, to injure or dizzy (sic) the eyes of an enemy combatant, and especially anybody who is sighting and firing at us with an optical instrument, so as to cause him to lose combat ability or to result in suppression of his observation and sighting operation. Besides, the high-power laser beam can damage or invalidate any enemy photo-electric sensor in highly converging optical system...".

The second was a laser developed in the USA, the Laser Countermeasure System (LCMS), mounted on an M16 rifle, which had been developed and tested a few years previously but was due to be manufactured for sale to the army in 1995. This system was described as having "the primary objective to detect, jam and suppress threat fire control, optical and electro-optical subsystems." It certainly had the capacity to blind permanently at considerable distances (up to one kilometre), and use of this purpose was not excluded.


Air forces have been aware of this threat for some time now.

Wolverine
2004-Dec-30, 04:33 AM
I wonder if this will eventually affect sales of those used for astronomical purposes (http://www.skypointer.net/).

Cylinder
2004-Dec-30, 04:51 AM
The SkyPointerô should not be used when others are imaging, as a sweep of the beam through the imaged field might register in the exposure.

Whoops! :oops:

tmosher
2004-Dec-30, 05:35 AM
Concerning lasers and aircraft, may I suggest the following two NTSB reports:

http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief.asp?ev_id=20001207X04715&key=1


said a laser beam swept past the cockpit and he immediately experienced eye pain and was completely blinded in the right eye. After image effects also induced a blind condition in his left eye. He said the total inability to see lasted 30 seconds, and for an additional 2 minutes, he could not focus on or interpret any instrument indications and was completely disoriented in his spatial relationship to the vertical.

http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief.asp?ev_id=20001208X07739&key=1

Tom Mosher

archman
2004-Dec-30, 09:41 PM
There was a Readers Digest article several years back about a U.S. helicopter pilot that was blinded by high-powered laser light from a Russian spy ship. I think he suffered permanent damage, and lost his wings.

But the really bad part was, the U.S. government decided not to prosecute the ship's crew, or the Russian government. It was a political decision. Anyway, the pilot tried to get hushed up by his superiors, and when he didn't, he was either discharged or forced to retire I believe. But he still managed at least to tell his story to a highly disseminated magazine. I wonder what became of the fellow.

Quite frankly with all this commercial airline attention on lasers, I'm surprised this older case hasn't resurfaced.

Swift
2004-Dec-31, 11:44 PM
This got a little more press around here, since one of the planes was near Cleveland.

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, FBI special agent Robert Hawk said. It was determined the laser came from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.
I have to think someone was doing a good job of aiming if they could hit the cockpit window at 8500 feet. It had to be mounted and with some sort of "spotter scope" at the least. I also heard it was a green laser, less common than the universally available red laser pointers (help me out Laser Jock - Helium Neon?).

N C More
2004-Dec-31, 11:57 PM
I have to think someone was doing a good job of aiming if they could hit the cockpit window at 8500 feet. It had to be mounted and with some sort of "spotter scope" at the least. I also heard it was a green laser, less common than the universally available red laser pointers (help me out Laser Jock - Helium Neon?).

I saw this story on TV last night and it's certainly disturbing...the idea that this could be some type of terrorism keeps crossing my mind! No, I don't like this at all! :evil:

Sever
2005-Jan-01, 12:05 AM
From I've read, the Russians blinded the Space Shuttle with one.
Linky. (http://www.astronautix.com/craft/terra3.htm)

Candy
2005-Jan-01, 12:26 AM
From I've read, the Russians blinded the Space Shuttle with one.
Linky. (http://www.astronautix.com/craft/terra3.htm)

10 October 1984 Terra-3 illuminates US shuttle.

After the American decision was taken into 1983 to initiate the 'Star Wars' strategic defence initiative program, Minister of Defence Ustinov requested that the Americans be challenged. As a 'warning shot' the Terra-3 complex was used to track the space shuttle Challenger with a low power laser. This caused malfunctions to on-board equipment and temporary blinding of the crew, leading to a US diplomatic protest.
Oh, dear. :o

Laser Jock
2005-Jan-01, 12:41 AM
This got a little more press around here, since one of the planes was near Cleveland.

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, FBI special agent Robert Hawk said. It was determined the laser came from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.
I have to think someone was doing a good job of aiming if they could hit the cockpit window at 8500 feet. It had to be mounted and with some sort of "spotter scope" at the least. I also heard it was a green laser, less common than the universally available red laser pointers (help me out Laser Jock - Helium Neon?).

Green? He-Ne is still pretty far in the red (633 nm). There are green laser pointers, but I seriously doubt that they would be intense enough to cause pain and temporary blindness from that far away. I'm thinking a solid-state doubled Nd:Yag like this (http://www.coherent.com/Lasers/index.cfm?fuseaction=show.page&ID=873&loc=834&Show Me=More) is more likely. They are small, powerful, relatively inexpensive, and commercial available.

If they verify that these are terrorist acts, I fear that they will start regulating these things. That will be a real nuisance for legitimate research labs (like mine).

Edit to add: If they verify that the wavelength is 532 nm, it almost immediately eliminates the possibility that these planes are being hit by accident. :-?

Amadeus
2005-Jan-01, 01:59 PM
Just thinking about the cockpit arrangement. How could a ground based laser get a line of sige to the pilots eyes? Unless it was based on high ground a the plane was very low?

Paul Sandoval
2005-Jan-01, 03:37 PM
According to news reports, the Cleveland laser was apparently aimed from a neighborhood near the Randall Park Mall in Warrensville Heights. Here's a link to the topographic map at Terraserver (http://terraserver.microsoft.com/image.aspx?T=2&S=16&Z=17&X=35&Y=358&W=1&qs=%7cwarr ensville+heights%7cohio%7c)

Elevation at Warrensville Heights is approximately 1000 feet above sea level, give or take.

In This view, (http://terraserver.microsoft.com/image.aspx?T=2&S=17&Z=17&X=17&Y=179&W=1&qs=%7cwarr ensville+heights%7cohio%7c) I'd like to point out that aircraft approaching Cleveland Hopkins Airport from the east usually fly somewhat south of the lakeshore, but roughly following it. Sometimes more north, sometimes more south, sometimes turning out over the lake and back in directly over downtown Cleveland, and sometimes flying west of Cleveland and turning back to the airport, but rarely south of Warrensville Heights. I know this because I frequently travel to and from the east coast from Cleveland. You might imagine why this topic interests me...anyway, the usual flight approach takes us north of Warrensville but south of the lakeshore. Assuming the jet was at 8500 feet, 15 miles from the airport, its angle of descent would roughly be 1.5 degrees, if my math is correct. Pilots out there, please forgive any ignorance, this is a rough estimate only. The angle of the laser beam would be steeper, of course, since the jet wasn't 15 miles from Warrensville. Based on the topo map, I estimate that if the jet was 15 miles from Cleveland, it was about 10 miles from Warrensville. This results in an angle of about 9 degrees for the laser, which I believe is flat enough for a laser to hit the cockpit windows.

On a related note, is there any way to treat cockpit windows in order to filter or diminish laser beams?

A Thousand Pardons
2005-Jan-01, 04:40 PM
On a related note, is there any way to treat cockpit windows in order to filter or diminish laser beams?
They could paint them with a lead-based yellow-orange paint. :)

ff
2005-Jan-01, 04:49 PM
Based on the topo map, I estimate that if the jet was 15 miles from Cleveland, it was about 10 miles from Warrensville.

Wouldn't hitting a cockpit window sized target at that range and speed require some sophisticated equipement? For some reason all these related events sound fishy to me.

Paul Sandoval
2005-Jan-01, 04:57 PM
Based on the topo map, I estimate that if the jet was 15 miles from Cleveland, it was about 10 miles from Warrensville.

Wouldn't hitting a cockpit window sized target at that range and speed require some sophisticated equipement? For some reason all these related events sound fishy to me.
As I understand it from other discussions, extremely sophisticated equipment would not be required. Here's a link to a construction laser:

Link (http://www.topconsurvey.com/hardware/gpt3000w.html)

One of these (http://www.wickedlasers.com/products.php?var=ok), coupled with a spotting scope and mounted on a tripod, could do the deed, apparently.

ff
2005-Jan-01, 06:09 PM
As I understand it from other discussions, extremely sophisticated equipment would not be required. Here's a link to a construction laser:

Link

One of these, coupled with a spotting scope and mounted on a tripod, could do the deed, apparently.

I just did some quick math. If your scope and laser were to be out of alignment by only .01 degrees you will have missed your target by 9.215 feet. That's bigger than a cockpit window. You would have to be within .001 degree tolerance to even hit a stationary window at this range. Sounds difficult to me, especially when you throw in the fact that the plane is moving at a high rate of speed. But then again, maybe I'm wrong. :D

Paul Sandoval
2005-Jan-01, 06:17 PM
There is, of course, the possibility that the perpetrators have been trying to hit a lot of planes with their lasers and have been very lucky in their most recent round of attempts. Assuming that the Cleveland laser-shooters tried to hit every jet that came along and were successful with the one jet, it lowers their rate of success quite a bit. I am not inclined to believe that they are able to target a plane at random and hit the cockpit every time. I dunno...

LunarOrbit
2005-Jan-01, 06:56 PM
I've got two questions:

1. Can we rule out the possibility that it was just an amateur astronomer who decided to get the range of an airplane flying over and accidently pointed the laser at the cockpit windows?

2. Is it possible that the laser was used as a ranging device for a more conventional weapon, like a missile launcher? The fact that the laser hit the cockpit windows could just be a coincidence.

Paul Sandoval
2005-Jan-01, 10:53 PM
It has been asserted that in the Cleveland incident, the laser shone into the cockpit for "two to four seconds", an unlikely amount of time if someone had been using a laser to sight a telescope.

Donnie B.
2005-Jan-02, 12:28 AM
The idea that it might have been a target designator makes more sense to me than the blinding idea.

The latter seems most unlikely to cause the plane to crash. First of all, you'd have to blind both pilots so fully that neither could use either eye for a considerable amount of time. They would have to be so disabled that they could neither fly the plane themselves nor get it onto autopilot (after which, presumably, a number of options would become available, including staying aloft long enough for one of the pilots to recover some sight). It's hard to imagine any "critical moment" scenario in which a momentary disabling of one pilot would be enough to cause a catastrophic result.

But if you could illuminate a plane with a target designator (and you have a laser-homing weapon on hand), you've got a real chance to bring it down.

So it seems likely to me that this was either a "trial run" of a terrorist plot to shoot down a commercial jet with a laser guided missile, or possibly an accident or practical joke. I doubt it was an attack in itself.

Let's hope the guilty party is soon discovered.

01101001
2005-Jan-02, 01:11 AM
But if you could illuminate a plane with a target designator (and you have a laser-homing weapon on hand), you've got a real chance to bring it down.
But, a green laser instead of infrared? Do any military targeting systems use green? Why give away your intentions to human eyeballs?

A Thousand Pardons
2005-Jan-02, 01:47 AM
I just did some quick math. If your scope and laser were to be out of alignment by only .01 degrees you will have missed your target by 9.215 feet. That's bigger than a cockpit window. You would have to be within .001 degree tolerance to even hit a stationary window at this range. Sounds difficult to me, especially when you throw in the fact that the plane is moving at a high rate of speed. But then again, maybe I'm wrong.
You can easily get a lot better than .01 degrees--just consider a target rifle. At two hundred yards, that's an inch and a quarter.

If the plane was on low approach, at ten miles or so, it would almost look stationary, even if it were coming at high speed. It could even have been handheld, since the device is its own "pointer".

ff
2005-Jan-02, 03:19 AM
If the plane was on low approach, at ten miles or so, it would almost look stationary, even if it were coming at high speed. It could even have been handheld, since the device is its own "pointer".

Well, it might look stationary, but someone said that the laser shined in the cockpit for two to four seconds. If the plane was traveling at only 200 mph it would move about 586 feet in two seconds time. I seriously don't believe that Average Joe can pull this off. Too much precision involved.

Tuckerfan
2005-Jan-02, 04:24 AM
There was a Readers Digest article several years back about a U.S. helicopter pilot that was blinded by high-powered laser light from a Russian spy ship. I think he suffered permanent damage, and lost his wings.

But the really bad part was, the U.S. government decided not to prosecute the ship's crew, or the Russian government. It was a political decision. Anyway, the pilot tried to get hushed up by his superiors, and when he didn't, he was either discharged or forced to retire I believe. But he still managed at least to tell his story to a highly disseminated magazine. I wonder what became of the fellow.

Quite frankly with all this commercial airline attention on lasers, I'm surprised this older case hasn't resurfaced.If it's the same pilot that they interviewed on NPR, then the article was completely wrong. He had some momentary vision problems, but that was it.

Oh, yeah, there's uncomfirmed rumors that the US did something similar in Vietnam, with us shining lasers from aircraft to blind anyone inclined to stare up at them while using binoculars.

Sever
2005-Jan-02, 04:33 AM
But if you could illuminate a plane with a target designator (and you have a laser-homing weapon on hand), you've got a real chance to bring it .

No SAM that I am aware of uses laser guidence. Unless one was modified that home in on the jet that way, but wouldn't it be simpler to use a heat seeking or radar homing missile?

A Thousand Pardons
2005-Jan-02, 12:21 PM
If the plane was on low approach, at ten miles or so, it would almost look stationary, even if it were coming at high speed. It could even have been handheld, since the device is its own "pointer".

Well, it might look stationary, but someone said that the laser shined in the cockpit for two to four seconds. If the plane was traveling at only 200 mph it would move about 586 feet in two seconds time. I seriously don't believe that Average Joe can pull this off. Too much precision involved.
No, if it is actually approaching directly at you, then it doesn't move at all. That 587 feet in two seconds assumes that it is moving across your field of view, rather than towards you.

Donnie B.
2005-Jan-02, 02:47 PM
But if you could illuminate a plane with a target designator (and you have a laser-homing weapon on hand), you've got a real chance to bring it .

No SAM that I am aware of uses laser guidence. Unless one was modified that home in on the jet that way, but wouldn't it be simpler to use a heat seeking or radar homing missile?
Good points. But I still maintain that a laser blinding attack would have little chance of bringing a plane down, no matter where it occurred on the flight path.

Amadeus
2005-Jan-02, 02:55 PM
But if you could illuminate a plane with a target designator (and you have a laser-homing weapon on hand), you've got a real chance to bring it .

No SAM that I am aware of uses laser guidence. Unless one was modified that home in on the jet that way, but wouldn't it be simpler to use a heat seeking or radar homing missile?
Good points. But I still maintain that a laser blinding attack would have little chance of bringing a plane down, no matter where it occurred on the flight path.

It might have an effect if it was done during landing. As far as I know that is not done via autopilot.

Donnie B.
2005-Jan-02, 03:21 PM
It might have an effect if it was done during landing. As far as I know that is not done via autopilot.
Typically not, but it can be. And again, the beam would have to completely incapacitate two pilots to the degree that they couldn't perform even an abort maneuver (gun the engines and pull up). That seems beyond unlikely.

Maybe the idea was to disrupt and frighten, rather than cause a crash. We all saw how significant an economic impact resulted from 9/11.

Assuming this was a deliberate attack at all...

A Thousand Pardons
2005-Jan-02, 05:06 PM
Assuming this was a deliberate attack at all...
The article that N C More links to in the OP says that there were many attacks, sometimes two lasers attacked the same plane at the same time. That it couldn't possibly be anything but a conspiracy...

Swift
2005-Jan-04, 08:08 PM
NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) -- A man who initially claimed his daughter aimed a laser at a helicopter was charged after he told federal agents that he pointed the light beam at two aircraft, authorities said Tuesday.
<skip>
On Wednesday night, a pilot preparing to land a chartered jet with 13 people aboard reported seeing three green laser beams about 11 miles from the airport.

On Friday, a helicopter carrying Port Authority detectives was hit by a beam as they surveyed the area in an attempt to pinpoint the origin of the original beams.

LINK (http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/01/04/laserbeam.aircraft.ap/index.html)

Captain Kidd
2005-Jan-04, 08:24 PM
So, are we now going to have to go back to the telescoping metal pointers for presentations after laser pointers are banned? :D Poor cats too, ours went bonkers whenever I so much as rattled the box.

Seriously though, copycat you think? He heard about the Colorado stuff and wanted to try it for fun? Pretty low blaming it on your kid...

Laser Jock
2005-Jan-04, 08:28 PM
After reading all these stories, I'm pretty sure that this is not terrorism. It's probably just kids playing with green laser pointers. If these were real lasers, the pilots would have experienced permanent eye damage. Also, why use a laser to try to take down a plane? They are relatively easy to track and fairly expensive. A rifle would be a lot more effective.

Candy
2005-Jan-05, 02:13 AM
Man Charged Under Patriot Act for Laser (http://dailynews.att.net/cgi-bin/news?e=pri&dt=050104&cat=news&st=newsd87dkadg0&src =ap)

Banach's lawyer, Gina Mendola-Longarzo, said her client was simply using the hand-held device to look at stars with his daughter on the family's deck. She said Banach bought the device on the Internet for $100 for his job testing fiber-optic cable.
He claims stargazing now? :roll:

N C More
2005-Jan-05, 01:46 PM
Update: After taking a lie detector test the guy has, apparently, admitted that he purposefully pointed the laser at the plane and the helicopter! (Source, MSNBC news this morning)

What was he thinking? "Dumb" doesn't even begin to cover it.

Donnie B.
2005-Jan-05, 02:38 PM
Dumb and dumber, for agreeing to take a polygraph test.

As I make this post, the ads on this page are for powerful green laser pointers! Any buyers?

Swift
2005-Jan-05, 02:53 PM
Dumb and dumber, for agreeing to take a polygraph test.

As I make this post, the ads on this page are for powerful green laser pointers! Any buyers?
#-o
Actual quote from one of the websites

Welcome to Wicked Lasers, the home of the legendary EXTREME Green Laser Pointer.
http://wickedlasers.com/
Almost expect them to say "Perfect for shooting at airplanes"

Wolverine
2005-Jan-05, 03:28 PM
http://wickedlasers.com/


Applications include: Acupuncture ... Airplane Engine Bird Deterrent ... Crop Protector ... Gene Cell Therapy

Uhh... :-k

If I were ever to purchase one, it certainly wouldn't be from these folks.

russ_watters
2005-Jan-05, 03:28 PM
As I understand it from other discussions, extremely sophisticated equipment would not be required. Here's a link to a construction laser:

Link

One of these, coupled with a spotting scope and mounted on a tripod, could do the deed, apparently.

I just did some quick math. If your scope and laser were to be out of alignment by only .01 degrees you will have missed your target by 9.215 feet. That's bigger than a cockpit window. You would have to be within .001 degree tolerance to even hit a stationary window at this range. Sounds difficult to me, especially when you throw in the fact that the plane is moving at a high rate of speed. But then again, maybe I'm wrong. :D A good sniper can kill a person from a mile away. Try the math on that and then remember that you have to be steadier to shoot than to aim and a laser isn't affected by gravity (that you can percieve) or wind...

Moose
2005-Jan-07, 02:12 PM
Letters (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/01/06/laser_man_letters/) to El Reg on the green laser thing. Note: A couple of the letters use language that might bend the BABB rules a little, but I saw nothing that would clearly break them.

Excerpts from some of the letters.


Furthermore, I've actually done distance tests with my green laser, successfully hitting objects that were 3/4ths of a mile away. That's _just_ shy of 4000 feet. But it was almost _impossible_ to do; the object in question was a _large_ church and most importantly, NOT MOVING.


At 1 km a good semiconductor laser will produce a spot 8m+ in diameter (assuming 0.5 degrees beam divergence). There is no way in hell anyone can be blinded by this. In fact if you look at it from the beam side from 1km+ it will look like someone is blinking with a very weak lamp.


Rather than prosecuting him, shouldn't they be recruiting him to run the Star Wars defence program? A 1 in 3 hit rate success on a 1 cm diameter target flying through the air must be beyond the wildest dreams of the NSA boffins.

El Reg tends to run a representative range of letters. In this case, however, there were no letters printed that actually defended the "Feds'" position.

Wolverine
2005-Jan-08, 08:56 AM
Now covered on the Sky & Telescope front page (http://skyandtelescope.com/).

Story. (http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/article_1429_1.asp)