back to article Aircraft laser strikes hit new record with 20 incidents in one night

The Federal Aviation Administration has warned of a dangerous escalation in laser strikes on aircraft, with Wednesday night alone registering a record 20 incidents. "Nearly two dozen aircraft were hit by lasers last night," the FAA reported. "Shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime. It can harm the pilot and …

Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

"Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

Right. Now what?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

Given the events tonight in Paris, declaring these events as acts of Terroism is not that far fectched.

Send them to on a one way flight to Gitmo.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

I wonder if this has anything to do with flightpaths being changed so that there is far loess variation on their approach and departures than there used to be? The path followed is more carefully controlled, and the upshot of that is that some people get far more aircraft passing overhead than they used to. It's hardly surprising that this might be pissing people off in some areas.

Not that I would ever condone this dangerous behaviour of course, but changes are always made in such a way that only ever considers the advantages from the PoV of the airlines, airports and air traffic control. The impact on the public on the other hand rarely seems to get taken seriously in any significant way. Just look at Heathrow, where they didn't even bother telling people about flight path trials, and where NATS lied to the public on the subject of departure routes from Heathrow.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

Which came first? The airport or the real estate development?

Frankly, they should have passed a law or regulation that nothing other than airport support structures could be built within a few miles of an airport or at least in the takeoff and landing flight paths.

Second, yes, interfering with aircraft operations is the very definition of terrorism and always has been since the 1940s when it was then labeled as sabotage.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

I wonder if this has anything to do with flightpaths being changed so that there is far loess variation on their approach and departures than there used to be?

No, it's to do with high-powered lasers now being cheaply available online. Combine that with stupidity and poor education, and you get idiots who'll end up in court, crying "But I didn't think..."

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

it's to do with high-powered lasers now being cheaply available online.

They have been for some time now though surely?

If the availability hasn't really changed over recent years, but the behaviour has changed then perhaps something other than the tendency for not giving a shit about anybody else is to blame for the increase?

And just to re-iterate: I do not condone what these people do. Regardless of what excuses they come up with, their actions can never be justified.

I only mentioned the airport development since I've seen the extreme anger that the Heathrow trials last year caused when there were meetings between locals and Heathrow management. When you see it first hand it's not difficult to imagine that anger translating into this sort of behaviour regardless of how unreasonable - and illegal - such actions may be, especially since the changes trialled at Heathrow have already been put into practice in the US, presumably causing the same problems and the same levels of frustration.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

No amount of 'anger' justifies pointing lasers at cockpits of planes on finals.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal" @anothercynic

Did you actually read my response? I have repeatedly said that I don't condone it.

People however have the habit of occasionally doing the unreasonable, sometimes with dire consequences. Ignoring that tendency serves no useful purpose that I can see.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

I'm 70 miles (100km) from a major metropolitan airport, their primary approach vector was consolidated about a year ago to a single path over the mountains, and the folks a couple miles south of me, who live in a very remote rural and quiet canyon, are quite annoyed at the non-stop stream of big jets , spaced 30 seconds apart all day and night that now fly directly over them. as this valley is up 1000' elevation from sea level, the planes are flying at 6000 or 7000' above sea level, they can be quite loud.

that all said, to the topic at hand.... green laser pointers. I'm an amateur astronomer, and use these at public events to point out the night sky features we're showing the public. There's a new generation of these lasers that are WAY brighter than advertised... I bought a pair of supposedly 5mW green lasers, that are easily 30-40 mW compared with my old 5mw lasers. the older ones used 2 AAA batteries, and were quite sensitive to cold and low voltage, they'd stop working if the batteries drop below 1.4V each (2.8V total). These new 'laser 303' lasers use 18650 LiIon rechargables. I measured the electrical power consumption of one at 1.2 watts, and at the typical efficiencies of the IR diodes, IR laser crystal, and frequency-doubler crystal these use, that comes to 30-40mW actual radiated power. frankly, for my star pointer use, I preferred the old 'actually' 4-5mW lasers, but their battery consumption was ridiculous.

I suspect this increasing stream of reports in the press will be followed by banning them entirely.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

"I suspect this increasing stream of reports in the press will be followed by banning them entirely."

That's already happened in Australia. Several years ago the government banned all laser pointers over 1 mW, except for members of registered astronomy clubs. You have to prove membership in such a club to be able to import a >1 mW laser pointer, and there's a safety training course you have to complete to be qualified to use one.

Essentially the safety course warns about never pointing them at aircraft, always checking to see if there are any aircraft in the vicinity you're aiming at before operating the pointer, and being aware of high-altitude ice scattering the beam in ways that aren't always visible from the ground, etc.

They're classed as Category A firearms, which I thought was actually quite cool - I'd been waiting since I was a kid for the sci-fi moment when laser guns would be recognised officially as weapons!

But of course that means that if you are caught in possession of one without an astronomy-club exemption you get charged with possession of an illegal and unregistered firearm - which in this country is a serious and imprisonable offence.

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Mushroom

Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

No, it's to do with high-powered lasers now being cheaply available online. Combine that with stupidity and poor education, and you get idiots who'll end up in court, crying "But I didn't think..."

I would say it has even more to do with green lasers nowadays being sold as toys on the street in many holiday locations and brain dead parents buying said lasers for their even more stupid offspring.

The toy version usually has some kind of filter that turns the beam into a heart shape or something, but the filter can be easily removed to create a single point high power green laser pointer.

I'd recommend some high powered active point back system that precisely, instantly and permanently blinds whoever points such a converted toy on an aircraft.

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Re: Which came first?

Not as simple as that. Sometimes it was the airport, sometimes it was the city. Also, the area affected by the noises can be somewhat large. I once lived in an apartment that was in the flight path BWI used during one type of bad weather. I understand the particular climb and turn combination pilots have to make to execute the takeoff causes rather more noise than the standard one. Most of the time I didn't notice, but I did occasionally. I was a good 20 minute drive from the airport. So you're talking about prohibiting housing in more than 600 square miles just for a small arc covering the apartment complex I lived in.

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Re: green lasers nowadays being sold as toys on the street

which at it's heart is a different way of saying "availability of cheap lasers".

I'm inclined to think it's mostly this and some in anger, but we really shouldn't rule out terrorist probing.

All of which brings us back to the point raised by the very first poster: What are airlines going to do about it? Making it illegal obviously isn't working. Which means the airlines MUST take some sort of countermeasures to deal with it.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal"

"some people get far more aircraft passing overhead than they used to."

It's bloody hard to lase an aircraft passing overhead. You need to be a long way away and able to shine it on the windows at the pointy end, which is why so many get painted when they're on finals (low and moving slowly)

This is more a stupid prat thing than a Victor Meldrew type response.

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Re: Dangerous, stupid and highly illegal" @vimes

Did I say you condoned it? You will find, dear Vimes, that I did not. So please, leave your self-righteous 'Did you actually read my response' indignation at the door.

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Anonymous Coward

Apparently a lot of people agree that you should have privacy in your own backyard. We don't know if the pilots were looking at our wimmin. We don’t know if they were looking for something to steal. Those pilots should be glad it was just a laser and not a shotgun.

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Here, have a downvote.

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FAIL

@ AC

There's a tiny difference between downing an unmanned drone hovering 30-40 feet above your backyard, and lasing an aircraft carrying people and fuel just waiting to come crashing down in a neighborhood. And I'm not even crazy about the guy who downed the drone with a shotgun, which might be dangerous to others, even if he was using birdshot.

Enjoy the downvote and "Thank you, come again!"

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"We don't know if the pilots were looking at our wimmin"

Do people really think that comment was not a joke?

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Re: "We don't know if the pilots were looking at our wimmin"

People really think it's a bad joke, I think.

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Re: "We don't know if the pilots were looking at our wimmin"

I believe that he is making some reference to some of the recent articles about drones and prvacy

here is one of them

http://m.theregister.co.uk/2015/07/30/man_arrested_shooting_camera_drone/

It appers that the KneeJerk crowd are strong in the force today Luke....

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Holmes

Re: "We don't know if the pilots were looking at our wimmin"

These are not the KneeJerk crowd you are looking for.

The other part of the KneeJerk crowd is blathering about our freedoms being under attack and how they are shocked, shocked!! and mourning, mourning!! about some blowback shock-and-awe in Paris and how they will let their inner Nazi out. Oh my.

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Re: "We don't know if the pilots were looking at our wimmin"

@DAM

Yes, and I think that the word is commonly known as "retribution"... and we can probably thank Mr Bush and Mr Blair.....

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Re: "We don't know if the pilots were looking at our wimmin"

Yeah. You see the thumbs down. The keyboarder arsehole brigade is strong again and smelling blood in the water.

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Downvotes? For obvious sarcasm and references to current events?

A lot of grumpy old farts here, I see.

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Anonymous Coward

Grumpy old farts don't bother me. Even if they miss the joke, their rants add a bit of colour to the proceedings.

What I can't stand are sufferers of special snowflake syndrome who feel the need to make pointless and narcissistic posts.

<whine> 'Here have a down vote'.</whine> Really? WTF gives a toss. If you feel strongly about something, speak up; otherwise don't waste everyone's time.

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It really is a shame that The Register does not provide for both anonymity and the joke icon, as I feel sure thes post was a joke. I cannot bring mysel fo upvote it, but think the downvoters might have missed the mark

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So, are the downvoters agreeing with the sentiment and adding a downvote, or are they disagreeing and downvoting the downvote? My head hurts.

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Excellent tie-in between the two there sir :)

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Anonymous Coward

Well I thought the headline at first glance (arrrr me hearties!) was about a new Star Wars test shot, TBH. Probably I need more coffee ;)

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Time for boffins to come up with a defence against laser pointers, because it doesn't matter how many laws you make, if there are a million people then there will be a fair number of idiots among them.

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It just takes one.

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I can think of a few - laser guided missiles would be neat.

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Def
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Time for boffins...

...to figure out how to limit the range the light can travel from a laser pointer. And then make the column of light fully visible, and a bit thicker, give them a nice big handle to hold it with, and maybe give it a nice wooshing sound as it scythes through the air.

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Make them fail to work if pointed upwards, at more than (say) 60 degrees.

Twats can still cause other harm with them, just as now, but accurately pointing them at an aircraft in flight would be a lot harder at a maximum angle like that.

Edit:

Hmm. Scrap that idea, then - just read a little further and saw the high rise blocks/Glasgow airport comment. A low angle would probably still be a problem there. Reduce the strength of the laser as the angle increases, so at anything above horizontal, it's too weak to do any harm.

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mirror

"Make them fail to work if pointed upwards, at more than (say) 60 degrees."

A measure easily defeated with a mirror, while inconveniencing many legitimate uses, like pointing out details of frescoes in ceilings.

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"Time for boffins to come up with a defence against laser pointers..."

It's not THAT hard. I mean, it will cost money. And a lot more than they are willing to pay. But...

What lasers do we have today, commercially sold?

Red

Blue

Green

Violet

Each one of them working with an extremely narrow range of frequencies. Put some film inside the cockpit windows that blocks these specific wavelengths. There may be some change in the scenery colors, due to these missing colors, but I don't think it would be important.

Even the red ones. The red lights use a much larger spectrum than the laser pointers.

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Re: mirror

The US was looking into special fast-blackening glasses for their pilots back in the 90s when it was feared that high-powered lasers might be used against US warplanes to actually blind pilots for good (verboten by UN conventions, but hey) in case a shooting match breaks out with someone whose armed forces are a bit serious about that war business. What happened to that?

Well, sitting in a cockpit with what would be heavy sunglasses still would not make instrumental landing practical.

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I worked on a system using two fairly powerful lasers to scan eyes (yeah, I know).

Obviously, we worked in a closed off space so others would be safe - the oscillating mirrors could throw light everywhere during development and one had to be careful, which is difficult for hours on end.

The safety mechanism? wearing glasses with a high-Q optical filter for the two frequencies involved, not unlike the film over the aircraft screen idea.

So, no retrofit, give pilots laser landing glasses with maybe two filters for red/green. Going forward, ensure that all manufacturers agree that commercial pointers etc. use almost the same frequencies to minimise the variance.

The glasses were almost perfectly clear I recall so it seems possible unless there are dozens of frequencies used at the moment, even so, maybe a wider filter would still be fine even at night (where I presume the most attacks occur?, after all, they want to see the dot on the aircraft not being actual terrorists a la ISIS?).

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Pint

"...defence against laser..."

Exists.

Nanomaterial film that notches out the two most common laser pointer wavelengths.

First marketing approach was sheets of film installed in the aircraft windows just like window tinting is installed in cars.

Mk II marketing approach is goggles or glasses.

Been around for about a year, roughly.

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Remove the windows.

Why not? It'd allow for slightly reduced construction costs and simplified aerodynamics, and pilots don't actually need to see out of them - planes can already be flown almost entirely on instruments, and could be all the time with just a couple more cameras. It'd actually improve visibility.

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"Going forward, ensure that all manufacturers agree that commercial pointers etc. use almost the same frequencies to minimise the variance."

Nice idea, but I think at least part of the problem is that some overseas vendors are selling class 3 devices over the internet branded as "professional" laser pointers. Since they don't comply with your laws, or with plain common sense, they aren't likely to comply with a well-intentioned suggestion.

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Or you could rermove the pilots.

Take-off, cruise and landing are mostly automated anyway - or can be if need be.

It's either that or making it illegal to own any pointer with a power of more than <not many> W.

Does anyone really need a pointer that puts out more than 10mW? No, they don't.

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To be honest I was thinking of then just have broad spectrum goggles just for landing and. Take off. Surely that'd.do the job and a damn sight cheaper than recoating the cockpit glass.

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Fair number? What a polite way of saying "most of them."

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One Word

Peril-sensitive sunglasses.

Oh....

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jzl

Re: mirror

Defeated with a mirror? But, but, but, but that's HACKING!

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Re: mirror

I would think issuing pilots glasses that block the wavelength of light green lasers emit would be enough. But that just makes too much sense. So it will never be done.

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Only the green lasers are visible in the atmosphere. They seem to be the only lasers being used in the strikes.

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Coat

Re: Time for boffins...

...to figure out how to limit the range the light can travel from a laser pointer. And then make the column of light fully visible, and a bit thicker, give them a nice big handle to hold it with, and maybe give it a nice wooshing sound as it scythes through the air.

<pedant>More of a 60Hz A/C hum I think.</pedant>

So how's this:

<geek>The handle contains a reel of a mono-filament wire of some kind (probably carbon), which ends in a disc. The disc and the handle are both charged to repel each other and thus hold the filament taut. The charge is transferred to the disc at the end via ionisation caused by a powerful laser beam; as a side of effect of the extreme voltages generated there is a St. Elmo's fire effect going at that makes the ionisation path visible, this acts to tell you where the mono-filament is. It's the mono-filament that does the cutting, not the laser, though the beam and the controlled lightning effect will cauterise - to some extent - wounds caused by the wire.</geek>

And there you have it: 3-weeks worth of undergraduate discussion (in 1977) on how to construct a working light-sabre.

Oh look at the men in the smart, white lab-coats...

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