View Full Version : U.S. warns of terrorist lasers

10th Dec 2004, 07:38
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Terrorists may seek to down aircraft by shining powerful lasers into cockpits to blind pilots during landing approaches, U.S. officials warned in a bulletin distributed nationwide.

The memo, sent by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department, says there is evidence that terrorists have explored using lasers as weapons.

There is no specific intelligence indicating al Qaeda or other groups might use lasers in the United States, they added.

"Although lasers are not proven methods of attack like improvised explosive devices and hijackings, terrorist groups overseas have expressed interest in using these devices against human sight," the memo said.

"In certain circumstances, if laser weapons adversely affect the eyesight of both pilot and co-pilot during a non-instrument approach, there is a risk of airliner crash," the agencies said.

In September a pilot for Delta Air Lines reported an eye injury from a laser beam shone into the cockpit during a landing approach in Salt Lake City, Utah. The incident occurred about 5 miles (9 kilometers) from the airport. The plane landed safely.

FBI and other federal officials are investigating. It is not clear if a crime was committed or if the laser was directed into the cockpit by accident.

Steve Luckey, a retired airline pilot who is chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association's national security committee, said pilots are concerned about a recent increase in laser incidents, but do not know what to make of them. He said he has learned of two or three cases in the past 90 days.

"The most recent incidents appear to be aimed at pilots in the vicinity of airports," Luckey said. "A few seem to be intentional, and we're wondering why and what's going on."

Lasers can cause temporary blindness and severely damage the eye by burning the retina. The bulletin notes they are "relatively inexpensive, portable, easy to conceal and readily available on the open market."

Lasers are commonly used in a number of industries and are featured in outdoor light shows. A variety of more powerful military-grade lasers are produced around the world, but there is no evidence that terrorist groups have managed to obtain one, according to federal officials.

The bulletin was sent late last month to law enforcement officials and key government agencies and industries. A copy was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

10th Dec 2004, 08:25
Tom Clancy wrote about this very subject in his 1994 book 'Debt of Honor' except in his story it is the U.S military who use lasers to bring down a couple of Japanese AWACS just as they are about to land.

10th Dec 2004, 08:32
Actually didn't John J Nance do it in "Blackout" if I remember correctly?

A 747-400 gets hit with some laser/very bright light that kills the captain and blinds the first officer.

10th Dec 2004, 08:33
Hmmm, seems as if those militant "rogues" are able to read Tom Clancy's novels...well not so novel anymore :uhoh:

10th Dec 2004, 08:51
Surely a much bigger concern are the firearms that are also "relatively inexpensive, portable, easy to conceal and readily available on the open market."

A slightly odd priority.

10th Dec 2004, 10:52
This is why I never look outside on approach....

Ms. Turret (Ozi)
10th Dec 2004, 11:12
This one has been of concern for some time. The following is an extract from the Federation of American Scientists.

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 (especially during takeoffs and landings). Commercially available laser weapons include the ZM-87, developed by the Chinese and first displayed at the International Defense Exhibition in 1995. In addition, the Russians sell a truck-mounted high-energy laser. And the University of Tasmania in Hobart sells a CO2 laser system for controlling forest undergrowth. The system is used to ignite logging debris from distances of 100 to 1,500 meters. The laser, costing $86,500, is mounted on a gun turret carried in a 2-ton truck and is simple to operate. Similar systems are available commercially throughout the world.
Data from the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System database for the last two years provide examples of commercial flights in which the pilots suffered eye damage from lasers. These include aircraft landings at Honolulu, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. In Phoenix, one crew member was flashblinded, with resulting after-images and loss of night vision for about 1½ hours. Takeoffs have also been affected: in a 737 outbound from Los Angeles, two pilots were struck by a blinding flash that lasted 5 to 10 seconds. The first officer had burns on the outer eye and broken blood vessels. In a flight from Cleveland, one crew member received a bright blue light in his right eye and experienced vision impairment for the next 1½ hours. Data from the National Air Intelligence Center indicate that, in the U.S. alone, commercial lasers have caused over 50 blinding incidents. Lasers have also injured a number of Air Force personnel. For example, the Palace Casino’s laser show laser-illuminated a C-130 landing at Keesler AFB. The flight engineer, who was looking straight ahead, was blinded for 3 to 5 seconds and then experienced blurred vision. The next day, he experienced eye pain requiring eye drops. In April of this year, two Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter pilots were laser-illuminated from a Russian trawler during a routine mission.

More general info, over a year old, may be found at CBS news. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/20/tech/main578998.shtml)
Most alarming of all, though, is from the Washington Times (http://washtimes.com/national/20040928-111356-3924r.htm), barely 2 months old.

10th Dec 2004, 11:23
So , after the anthrax threat , the model airplane threat , the 'small town threat ' , the penknife threat , the 'osama boogeyman threat ' ... now is the laser threat .Great , looks like the new administration is as good as the old one (ooops they are the same , aren't they ???) at inventing ways of scaring the public (american one particularly ) .
Do they want to justify another insane losing war or what ?
There is an idea for them : In two weeks time , announce on all the 'independant' news channels (CNN, FOX...) that those lasers have been traced back to a small shop in the outskirts of teheran .
That should solve more than one of their problems .....

10th Dec 2004, 19:04
They are just putting fear into our minds! Laser light shows here in FL are common place and we are used to seeing the special notices in our AFD's. If you are under IFR - who cares? I am more concerned about viruses getting into the flight systems than lasers. (All I need is to see that blasted Windows logo on my LCD and that will put me into a panic!)


Besides - where is that damn missing crop duster?

TSA Advisory (http://www.nationalterroralert.com/updates/index.php?p=356)

10th Dec 2004, 19:19
We went over this a couple of months ago (http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?&threadid=146563).

More vague DOHS scaremongering, I'd say.

10th Dec 2004, 19:48
Guns vs. Laser

It's alot harder to hit a moving object with lead on a trajectory then a beam of light.

Positioning would make a big difference with lead than a light beam too. There's very few places I would think that would allow effective shooting at planes.

Plus distance severly impacts a bullet's damage provided it's a readily available firearm. Yeah, you can get guns that fire .50 BMG rounds but they have a slow rate of fire so you're not going to get alot of shots off in your "optimal window." Plus after all that noise you'd better be on the run, cause you ain't going to get a second chance.

There are Browning M2's out there but they fall under serious regulation and I'm not aware of any legally owned guns like that being used in crimes. I saw one at a gun show for $5000 a few years back.

You could get a silenced MAC10 or something but for that to work you'd need to be right at the runway threshold.

But there's serious paperwork, backround check etc etc for anything automatic or silenced or grenade launching. I'd think it would be very hard to *legally* obtain something like this.

There's so many if's with this attack that I'd think it unlikely for common household American firearms to be used for such an attack.

But hey, I've never tried to shoot down aircraft, so what do I know?

10th Dec 2004, 20:36
Blind Cockpit or Windowless Cockpit

Several years ago McDonnel Douglas experimented the windowless cockpit. Windowless cockpit means that the cockpit can be located anywhere in the airplane.

The benefits of a windoless cockpit are:
- pilots cannot be blinded by laser or nuclear flash
- better aerodynamic form of the aircraft nose
- lighter because there is no window frames
- no location constraint: shorter cables thus lighter
- no glass: no more bird strike
- no glass: no complex heating on a large glass area
- can have enhanced vision

10th Dec 2004, 22:22
Why do we need:

a) to sit at the front - it's closer to the crash (aircraft tend not to reverse into terrain) - ships have the bridge at the back!

b) to have a window? - what about an LCD with a camera besides we all trained in simulators anyway and had never operated a 737 etc until we got into one?

(or does that take all of the fun away)

All comments welcome!

11th Dec 2004, 06:32
What worries me the most is that by making this warning public, the person or agency who has released it has turned it into what amounts to a self-fulfilling prophesy. Any such attack doesn’t necessarily have to be successful to have a major commercial effect – it just needs to be made, even using toy lasers, easily purchased in any market. An attack doesn’t even have to be made against an aircraft while airborne – a taxying aircraft is an all too easy target.

Some poor sod – maybe me – might end up with eye damage, but even if that doesn’t occur, certain tabloids’ “shock! horror!” editors will do the rest in talking up the threat so that next we’ll have all sorts of new restrictions placed on our operations.

A very good first step to counter this threat, (even if it isn’t a serious one, which some with less imagination that I have seem to think), would be immediate legislation worldwide to impose very harsh penalties – and I’m talking prison terms – on anyone who even is even caught with any type of laser device without a good excuse (maybe a licence to operate it?) within miles of any airport. And anyone caught using one against an aircraft should be charged with attempted murder and thrown into gaol for a very long time however old he is - or isn’t.

11th Dec 2004, 09:38
windowless cockpit ....god forbid .
what would be the point of flying then ???
If it's to whatch a tv image of the outside , let's watch TV at home .
And in this case ...the immediate next step would be :let's fly the airplanes from a control room on the ground .
I think if things were gonna go that way , I'll definitely consider buying some land in africa and even a 206 wouldn't look that bad anymore ....
please , stop giving evil ideas to marketing :D

12th Dec 2004, 04:56
or does that take all of the fun away

Besides, am I the only one to think it is utterly ridiculous to actually try and blind a cockpit crew with a laser from the ground? You´d have to hit a target as small as... say... an eyeball (duh) moving at a speed of 130 or so knots and from quite some distance too (since I kinda doubt they´d let you hang out at the threshold.. or the airport fence for that matter.. without asking some questions).

And even if you actually somehow manage to hit the PF, you´d still have to hit the PNF. And even then you better hope the aircraft is not on autoland. Oh, and of course you´d have to listen in to ATC comms, so you can pick out an airplane which is on a visual approach, so the pilots are actually looking outside, instead of having their heads buried in the panel, as it should be during an instrument approach... *cough* :\

In all seriousness though, am I the only one who thinks this entire "warning" is so ridiculous it´s actually funny again? I love the US to death (my wife made me say that... she´s american. Oh, and she cried for almost three hours when she learned that a certain someone has been re-elected), but the things that come from their administration are getting weirder and weirder as time goes by. How anyone can still take anything they say serious is beyond me.
It´s a shame, really. Such a beautiful country, so many nice people, but such a screwed up government.

Sorry, had to vent a little. Especially after being questioned for nearly two hours by immigrations on my last trip to the US, because I didn´t know the cell phone number of my sister-in-law by memory. :yuk:

12th Dec 2004, 14:42
>>Oh, and she cried for almost three hours when she learned that a certain someone has been re-elected), but the things that come from their administration are getting weirder and weirder as time goes by. <<

Well, nobody in the America cares or knows who is running Germany (since WWII anyway) but I'm sure they're doing a much better job than those terrible people in Washington. I'm know Germany doesn't have a lot of extra rules, regulations, signs and warnings like the U.S. The German immigration officials are noted for their warm and caring personalities.

Maybe you should hold off on filling out the green card application in protest <g>...

12th Dec 2004, 15:03
In the past the US intellegence has been blamed for its failure to take latent threats seriously. That might be one of the reasons why now all possible threats and leads are being taken very seriously.

Although I agree that it scares the public and is food for thought for the otherwise illiterate terrorist there still is a good reason to analyse all possibilities of the threat to look at nipping it in the bud.

I suggest one of the speed camera detectors in the cockpit that can detect laser from the police radar gun......shut your eyes as soon as it beeps;)

12th Dec 2004, 16:22
One would have thought them cool Aviator sunglasses all those pilot types wear would offer some protection :E

12th Dec 2004, 19:47
I tried a laser stickon a cat, the cat is gone crazy trying to follow an catch it ! lots of fun..a good remote control for cats !
maybe it will work to bring the airplane back on the ground... airplanes are such good pets..

Teddy Robinson
12th Dec 2004, 22:47
Yeh Yeh Yeh ... we have heard this all before, a non story of a non event and the grateful folks are spozed to say " good job we re-elected George Dubbya ... or they might have succeeded".. prepare for more of the same leading up to the UK elections :yuk:

13th Dec 2004, 07:23
And in this case ...the immediate next step would be :let's fly the airplanes from a control room on the ground .

John Nance strikes again....! :E

Anyone read in one of his early books (pre '01), a character says "Next thing they'll be flying 747s into the World trade Centre".... :ooh: ???

Seems old John gets these ideas before the bad guys do..... ?

13th Dec 2004, 13:49
have line-of-sight aiming, damn' clever these American scientists!!;)

Onan the Clumsy
14th Dec 2004, 00:37
immediate legislation worldwide to impose very harsh penalties – and I’m talking prison terms – on anyone who even is even caught with any type of laser device without a good excuse I guess I'd better leave that portable CD player at home then.