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Getting serious about lasers


Even though the FBI continues to blame the laser incidents on "pranksters," it's good to see them finally cracking down. 'We're taking it very seriously,'' says Doug Riggin, the FBI agent who heads Nashville's Joint Terrorism Task Force regarding the recent incident reported by flight crew of an outbound United Express jet  Sunday evening on its way from Nashville to Chicago.

The same article in The Tennesean cites the comments of Steve Luckey, national safety committee chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association, which tend to corroborate the theory advanced by Phantom and others that the lasers aren't a weapon in and of themselves but a rangefinding device for a more conventional weapon, such as a missile:

Someone with enough practice and the right targeting equipment [like the "laser target designator" pictured above] could train a laser accurately on an airplane, Luckey said.

It's a possibility, though not likely, that someone could use a laser as a targeting device for a ''beam-rider'' missile, said Luckey who has lengthy commercial and combat flying experience.

''Actually, with respect to a terrorist-type incident, the laser would not be the weapon of choice,'' Luckey said. ''There's many, many other things that would be more predictably reliable for such an outcome. A missile or rocket-propelled grenade or a 50-caliber armor-piercing incendiary round or command-detonated device. There are all kinds of things out there that will get you.''

Luckey also provides some reassurance about the ability of modern airliners to surive a laser-only attack:

Even if a laser beam were to penetrate the cockpit windshield and disorient a commercial pilot, there are a battery of safety systems. There are two pilots. One could wear laser-resistant goggles, Luckey said. Or a pilot could simply drop his seat lower and fly by instruments alone. Most modern airlines, he said, have a ''go-around'' button, which when pushed on the aircraft's landing approach, would send the aircraft into a pre-programmed holding pattern.

Even so, the FAA contends (in a report issued last June):

These incidents compromise aviation safety due to the distraction and temporary visual impairment they often cause for flight crewmembers. Laser exposure has proven most disruptive when it occurs at low altitude during critical phases of flight.

I'm sure laser exposure could prove even more disruptive if followed by exposure to missile attack.

Posted by Rodger on January 5, 2005 at 09:15 PM | Permalink


My, my. The wagons have formed a straight line.

Just a few additional comments.

The moron who said it would serve a better terror purpose to hide in some bushes and blast an assault rifle needs a visit from the DEA. He has some powerful stuff that the rest of the world is not smoking.

Here is the boring stuff. At the muzzle (the point where the bullet leaves the barrel of an assault rifle), the bullet screams out at close to 2000 feet per second. However, the terminal range (the range at which the bullet dies based on energy and gravity), is about 1 mile. 2000 feet a second to 0 feet a second in 5280 feet. And that distance is covered in a total maximum of 4 seconds.

Hiding in the bushes, someone jumps out with their assault rifle and fires at an airliner. Look out.

The maximum effective range on US and Russian and Chinese assault rifles is between 400 and 500 yards. The reason they call it maximum effective range is because that is the point where you lose control of a 55 grain to 90 grain projectile and the range at which tat projectile can do bodily harm to an opponent.

500 yards is 1500 feet. Final approach for an aircraft. But it gets tricky. You are shooting something at 2000 feet per second, at a target that is flying, let's say, at 500 feet per second. The target is 300 feet long, to use a gross estimate.

If you were aiming for the cockpit in outer space (a vacuum) You would miss the target by over a plane length, even if you aimed for the cockpit.

Now, let's factor in a rate of descent for the plane, a slowing speed, and a final angle up. Then let's look at the weapon. 2000 feet per second at the point of fire (pulling the trigger) but half that at 500 yards.

So now the two and a half second lead you had to factor in before the shot needs to compensate for the fact that after 1500 feet straight line, that little projectile might just bounce off the target or cause no damage.

The suggestion harkens back to the prehistoric times, when men threw rocks at the moon.

Nothing to see here, just move on.

But the recent laser events are significant. First and foremost, ther was no damage to any pilots' eyes. A laser rangerfinder, be it UV or YAG, must be "eye safe". The returning pulse giving one the range cannot blind the user. "Green" lasers are most probably YAG lasers. The advantage to one with ill will toward the US is that they carry the light source up to 4 times of that of a "red" laser.

YAG lasers are cheap. And YAG lasers have been the preferred military rangefinding system for some time. Desert Storm 1 and Desert Storm 2 were YAG events.

The YAG takes you from a mere 1000 yards to 20,000 yards.

And availabilty is not an issue, per the recent activity on E-Bay

When pilots are not being blinded, we have to ask why. And the why is a targeting exercise. With a GPS, one has the perfect firing positions within the range of the black market booty.

The enemy is inside the wire and is stepping off positions for maximum fire.

And let's not forget the "dry runs" prior to 9/11 that even actor James Woods saw and called the FBI describing exactly what he saw. And the FBI agents that sent out reports on people taking flying lessons without any concern for landing.

I thought we learned the hard way before. If we don't pay attention to the little things, we will succumb to an event out of our control.

Posted by: Phantom | Jan 5, 2005 11:13:07 PM

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