back to article FBI offers $10,000 bounty for arrest of laser-wielding idiots

While laser pointers are very useful for presentations and distracting cats, the FBI is fed up with idiots using them to try to blind airline pilots, and is offering $10,000 to anyone who provides information leading to an arrest. Laser blinding aircraft pilot Blinded by the light "Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is …


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  1. Graham Marsden

    No problem...

    ... a few drones, a Hellfire missile or two with "home on laser" capability...

    1. Duncan Macdonald

      Re: No problem...

      Bit nasty for the neighbours if the perp lives in an apartment block (or is in a hotel).

      1. theblackhand

        Re: No problem... Re: bit nasty for the neighbours

        If the neighbours won't help with the solution (i.e. stopping the laser users then they're part of the problem.

        It might be a good time to move to somewhere a little more isolated....

        Or buy shares in Lockheed Martin....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No problem...

      Yeah, just what you want hitting someone who has parked their car at the end of a runway, when you're coming in to land.

  2. MigMig

    No reward necessary.

    If l ever were to catch one of these shitbags in the act id report them for free.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: No reward necessary.

      Speaking as a private pilot, there wouldn't be much of a shitbag left to report if I catch one.

  3. as2003

    11 incidents per day?

    Who has the time, perseverance, and steady hand required to cause 11 incidents a day?!

  4. Sergey 1


    Raise the stakes, lift the 60-day limit - and people will start building drones with an IR cam to track the suspect from laser beam detection until reaching proximity, and a regular flash-equipped cam to take the the bastards' picture. And these would obviously fly below 200', and well clear of runway extended centerline.

    1. DavCrav

      Re: Profit!

      "...and people will start building drones with an IR cam to track the suspect from laser beam detection until reaching proximity..."

      Just wondering, what happens when you shine a laser pointer at a drone? Anything much? Because if you will be flying them at people armed with laser pointers, you should probably make sure they can cope.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Profit!

        Just wondering, what happens when you shine a laser pointer at a drone?

        If you're lucky it goes out of control and flies into the dumb pricks face and blinds him/her... instant "punishment fitting crime". In fact maybe someone should write the code to make it possible and open source it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Profit!

        I tried "blinding" a cheapo webcam with a fairly high power hand-held laser once... and the results were unimpressive. It was temporarily dazzled, but that was all. So this isn't a good way to get free stuff from Amazon.

      3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Profit!

        I would suggest fitting the drone with a half-silvered mirror in front of any guidance cameras, and as many reflective surfaces as possible.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    I guess we need to redesign the Paveway to home in on laser source instead of reflection

    "O'Hare tower, this is United 2206, we're getting lased from below. Request permission to engage."

    "United 2206, this is O'Hare tower. Permission granted."

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: I guess we need to redesign the Paveway to home in on laser source instead of reflection

      it doesn't have to be redesigned, they just need an old one. 20 years ago, my girlfriend's unit had a pilot drop on the GLD instead of the target...a month of her unit being confined to quarters ended with a determination of pilot error.

  6. Zmodem

    there are sunglasses, there can be windows that reflect laser beams

    wont take that long for a AAA keyring beam

    1. Tom Samplonius

      "there are sunglasses, there can be windows that reflect laser beams"

      Not likely. The 20% transmission ratio of laboratory laser eyewear would probably have disastrous effects on a cockpit crew who must read instruments while flying at night.... The optical quality of such systems also becomes a factor because slight amounts of distortion or haze which may be of no concern in the laboratory may be a major concern to pilots flying at low altitudes and high speed. Also, there may be a variety of laser wavelengths/colors that may need to be defended against. If all wavelengths are protected, the goggles essentially are opaque.

      1. Zmodem

        windows, not sunglasses.. there are loads of different type of glass for windows which block UV rays, and skyscraper glass which wont smash with a plane impact..

        adding some kind of gel to the window for cockpits can no doubt relect or remove the glare from a direct laser beam

        then replace the glass in all cockpits with laser beam proof glass

        1. Zmodem

          gel it what makes windows double glazing and strong, gel is inside all double and triple glazed windows

          1. fridaynightsmoke

            Double glazing gel

            "gel it what makes windows double glazing and strong, gel is inside all double and triple glazed windows"

            Yes, the 'gel' between the panes of glass in a double glazed window is normally a very light substance consisting of a mix of around 79% Nitrogen and 20% oxygen. I hear that the aerospace industry is familiar with that substance and indeed relies on it utterly already. There is probably a thick layer of it protecting the cockpit glass, and it doesn't seem to help.

            1. Zmodem

              Re: Double glazing gel

              i originally said it would be more convienient and cheaper in the long run to just make laser beam proof glass with some new kind of gel

              americans are always crying about planes and lasers when no other country cares, they will bring in the national gaurd and raid festivals which have lasers on stage and tell everyone to go home because american pilots are sissies

              1. Zmodem

                Re: Double glazing gel

                this how it is around europre 30 times a year with dance music only

                1. Zmodem

                  Re: Double glazing gel

                  if you dont want america invading you, you just fill your countries sky up with disco lasers

        2. Michael 28

          negates the reason for having a green light on one wingtip and a red one on the other.

          1. Zmodem

            planes have radars on, most planes need to remain 1 mile away from each other unless there is a few thousand feet difference in altitude

            you would see be able to see other lights, laser beam bounce around and get reflect and make a rainbow in space

      2. armster

        Ever tried to wear those?

        I know there are ancient goggles that may be that bad, but for less than $500 you can buy multi-band goggles with good optics and 75% transmission. Laser lines are very narrow and good filter design can remove essentially all commercially available laser wavelengths without much visible issues. I have long wondered why not more pilots wear those.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In fact the three most common laser pointer colors are red, green, and blue. So that pretty well nixes the whole visible spectrum. Yeah you could theoretically block those specific wavelengths without blocking everything, but it's much easier said than done.

    3. Psyx

      "there are sunglasses, there can be windows that reflect laser beams"

      Yes, genius. I'm sure you're the first to think of that. Or not, because it doesn't work that way.

      1. Zmodem

        sunglasses are just a flimsy peice of place, cockpit windows have gel for double glazing, thermal compound gel, anti vibration gel, everything but laser beam proof gel exists

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All I can say is it took long enough!

    That and if they were up before me I'd kick them so hard they'd be wearing their bollocks for ear-rings.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    concentration levels are through the roof landing a plane last thing i want is a laser beam in my eye, happy to see this news article

  9. Mark 85

    So I look to the right at the ads..

    And they are all for laser pointers. WTF????

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So I look to the right at the ads..

      Ad block plus will sort that out for you mark.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Guess that big red laser pointer I made that's bright as the bat symbol but sports the register logo is out of the question at the NASA hanger that Google is renting?

  11. TheFatMan

    Han Shot First.

    ...Just saying.....

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fit up yer mates

    Cue a rush of none-too-brights egging their more pliant mates into practising their laser marksmanship at the local airport ("it'll be a larf innit"), then shopping them for the reward, failing to get their ducks correctly in a convincing row before picking up the phone, and ending up doing a bit of bird themselves. Judging by my local rag, there'd be a plentiful supply if they tried it in the UK.

  13. veeguy

    Perhaps a mercury switch would go a long way?

    Perhaps the inclusion of a mandatory mercury switch that would cut out the power when tipped more than 30 or so degrees about level would solve a large percentage of abuse? The people doing this brain dead activity probably couldn't figure out how to defect such a simple cheap device. People who had a legitimate above horizontal need/use could buy a more restricted or registered version

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Will never see the light of day.

      All the cat owners will boycott that thing out of existence.

  14. ChrisBedford

    I don't understand

    I've looked into laser pointers and it's been no more blinding than looking into a desk lamp. Plus, how many miles away from an airliner do you have to be to have line into the cockpit^h^h^h^h^h^h^h flight deck? From that distance you can blind a pilot? When I point one of these things at a PowerPoint screen from 5 metres away the little dot is all over the place - how does anyone keep it on the aeroplane windscreen long enough to cause anything other than a millisecond's flash?

    "to date 35 pilots have required medical treatment after being hit" WHAAAAAT? Those weren't laser pointers, they were weapons-grade, mains-powered, floor-mounted and with a sighting system. I call bullshit on this...

    I'm not for one second advocating going out and giving it a whirl, but I do believe that pilots that get their knickers all in a knot over laser pointer "incidents" are being just the teensiest bit over-dramatic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't understand

      The one you looked into was probably 1, 3 or at most 5 milliwatts. Although they're not technically "laser pointers", hand-held lasers of up to 2 watts are available. None the less, I strongly suspect "required medical treatment" means "got checked out, just in case".

    2. Scott L. Burson

      Re: I don't understand

      You're quite mistaken. Battery-powered lasers the size of a small flashlight are readily available for a few hundred dollars that put out 1W and even 2W -- that's 2000mW, probably about 1000 times the power of the laser pointer you looked into. I've read that shining one onto a wall and looking at the spot for a few seconds can cause permanent retina damage.

      I agree that they're weapons-grade, but floor-mounted and mains-powered? Absolutely not. And why do you need a sighting system when you can see the beam clearly?

    3. DropBear

      Re: I don't understand

      I don't understand either how they manage to hit such a small target so far away (it obviously wouldn't work from straight below), when normally you can't even see the beam (or even if you could - which would by the way mean so could anyone else, following it straight down to you). I can't imagine randomly waving it in a plane's general direction would register a hit long enough to matter in any possible way. So what gives?

      1. Mike Moyle

        Re: I don't understand

        @ DropBear

        You've actually touched on one of my biggest complaints with science-fiction movies where lasers/rayguns are used -- You DON'T need sights for a projected-energy weapon. Sights on a firearm evolved because the things tend to be heavy and cumbersome and have a tendency to wobble, and (on rifles, particularly) to help the shooter adjust for wind deflection or projectile-drop at distance, neither of which should be much of a problem with an energy beam.

        The easiest way to point a laser-pointer with good precision is to tape it to an outstretched index finger. With a larger/heavier one you may need to tape it to finger, hand and arm. Either way, pointing with arm extended at the object you want to hit should do for most purposes. If I wanted to hit and hold on a moving object, that's how I'D do it, at least.

        If you MUST have a "gun-shaped" hand-weapon in your movie for dramatic and/or recognition purposes, you design it such that the index finger lies in a groove parallel to the beam-emitter, with the other three fingers wrapped around the grip and, possibly, a thumb-stub as the firing button.

        Point-and-shoot -- We've all been doing it since childhood; no sights required.

    4. ragnar

      Re: I don't understand

      I watched a program on this once and, if memory serves, the beam diffuses by the time it reaches the aircraft i.e. it's not like trying to aim a dot through a windscreen, it's like trying to light it up with a torch.

      From inside, the whole cabin was lit up (and you can see the beginnings of this in the article photo) - it means the pilots can't see out and wrecks their night vision. Obviously the power in some of the lasers is pretty high if 30-odd pilots have needed hospital treatment.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't understand

      I've looked into laser pointers and it's been no more blinding than looking into a desk lamp

      You haven't been looking into one properly yet or you wouldn't be typing comments right now..

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yoda & Luke skywalker fined

    Despite a tear wrenching defense by their lawyer Mr JarJar Binks the judge concluded that "Wielding laser powered sabers in the vicinity of a spaceport was at best criminally irresponsible, at worst an act of malice endangering public security".

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is an easier solution

    Send some Blackhawk helos out at night near airports and have them use the laser beam to spot a direct rocket shot. I guarantee the perps will never live to repeat their crimes.

  17. Rule of Thumb

    Sounds a bit desperate?

    Applying economic forces to this problem might have some success, but does this sound a bit desperate to anyone else? If this program principally communicates that it's almost impossible to catch people who do this, then it could backfire.

    I also have to wonder who does this (11 x day)? If these are terrorists, then I have to say that I'm thrilled at their ineffectiveness, but I wonder how many arrests will result. It's not like terrorists go to the pub after a hard day's jihad and complain to the bartender.

    At a guess I'd say that most of these people are morons and even if they got a bunch of moron convictions, I don't know how many morons that will dissuade because... they're morons. I'll bet their money would be better spent exchanging laser pointers for $10 McDonald's coupons.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Down

      @Rule of Thumb - Re: Sounds a bit desperate?

      "I'll bet their money would be better spent exchanging laser pointers for $10 McDonald's coupons."

      Great, so they'll buy a cheap laser pointer for a buck or two and swap it for a coupon that's worth five times the value and then buy another pointer...

    2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Re: Sounds a bit desperate?

      I just looked up a 40 watt system:

      The one I was thinking about from a previous search a few months ago was about the size of a very large hand torch. And far more powerful.

      It wouldn't take much ingenuity to rig one of these things up in a van or a car boot, firing it through a hole or a car lamp. Since that is what a some snipers are or were already doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, just using ordinary rifles, I wonder why there are only 11 a day being used successfully. And only on aircraft.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Easy fix

    Red shades for the pilot, grren for the co-pilot.

    1. Chozo

      Re: Easy fix

      Finally a practical use for all those 3D glasses.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy fix

      You can't be serious - pilots are way too vain to voluntarily look like dorks. You never heard the old joke? Q: How do you know if a pilot's walked into a room? A: He'll tell you.

  19. Snapper


    This is actually attempted murder, and should be treated as such!

  20. Crisp

    It's all fun and games until...

    Some twat fires up a megawatt CO2 laser.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: It's all fun and games until...

      Perhaps fitting a mega watt range CO2 laser on the aircraft would be better, and vapourising the idiot with the pointer.

  21. TechEmperor
    Black Helicopters

    Over reaction

    Everyone knows airplanes land with auto-pilot on. the human pilot just enjoys his coffee (and the company of airhostresses). I can't see how those laser beams can blind a pilot.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Over reaction

      I read somewhere that most of the flight is on auto-pilot, but it gets turned off for landing because it's too precise and so to avoid wearing out the runway quickly with the planes always landing in the same spot all the time, pilots land manually.

  22. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

    Meanwhile, over here in the UK ...

    We introduced an offence of shining a laser at an aircraft which doesn't have the option of a custodial sentence ! So prosecutors are apparently reverting to charges of "endangering an aircraft" which does have a custodial option - and judges are using it.

    On that latter one, if you are up before Tudor Owen for such a charge then you definitely can't expect any leniency.

    Of course, it helps the arrest and conviction when the idiots are stupid enough to consider targeting the Police helicopter - hence the "slap face" icon.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meanwhile, over here in the UK ...

      Six months, out in three?

      Personally I'd sentence them to ten years counting penguins in South Georgia.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: Meanwhile, over here in the UK ...

        I'd do that for free!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meanwhile, over here in the UK ...

      "...if you are up before Tudor Owen for such a charge then you definitely can't expect any leniency."

      Tudor Owen is well known on the PPrune forum as "the Flying Lawyer", although he no longer posts on aviation law, his former specialisation as a barrister - he had the CAA on the ropes more than once. He also holds a helicopter licence, so I guess he has an especially fine appreciation of why the muppet in question deserved some time in chokey.

      The UK inevitably has good and bad judges, but he's always struck me as one of the few with a genuinely solid grasp of what's in front of him.

  23. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    The problem is this is in a country where in some states / counties it appears that shooting passing trucks or road / vendor signs is a perfectly acceptable pastime. Wielding a cheap-ish laser and pointing it at a plane is just as stupid but fits the same pattern.

    Because this has to be done at a relatively short distance (while you can see the dot, having a hand steady enough to hit a relatively fast moving target is not going to be easy especially while doubtless half cut on local bootleg), it really shouldn't be hard for an auto-targeting camera system to take quite a good shot of the idiot and to maintain tracking the source while the plane flies overhead for even better shots. Next step could be a few targetted lasers pinpointing the target in response, although given this is the United States of Litigation sending murderous idiots to hospital with retina damage would have the lawyers rubbing their hands in anticipation.

    1. Stevie


      Not a gun owner, but I think you'll find that the official view in those places you cite is that irresponsible use of firearms is unacceptable at any time, but you can't legislate against having idiots in the population.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        OK I suppose I admit that it's probably not considered officially acceptable in those places, but some of them you feel like you've just strayed into either a very active rifle range or a war zone given the number of things with holes in them.

  24. wikkity

    "aircraft must avoid the vicinity for 20 minutes"

    Hmm, maybe they should search people who turn up late for a delayed flight, see if they have a laser pointer in their pockets.

  25. Stevie


    If there really has been a case of a "temporarily blinded" pilot I strongly suspect (without a shred of evidence) that what we are talking about is *not* your average pen-sized and smaller laser but the slightly larger machines used as sighting devices for firearms. They are inexpensive and easily obtained from Amazon and a damn sight more fit-for-purpose than a pointer device (no pun intended).

    No, I didn't want to shine one at an aeroplane, I wanted to use one in a Maker project.

  26. xerocred

    I call bullshit on the supposed danger and think it has been massively exaggerated.

    Ok so the cockpit has a flash of light. Lightning would cause a similar effect (ok, not monochromatic). If it really had catostrophic consequences then one woupd expect 3000+ yarr to have done something.

    Also here in hk every night at 8pm many buildings put on a laser show, presumably with something more powerful than a 10mW laser pointer. They don't, stop the planes flying every night.

    So no i dont think its endangering the flight, a nuisance and stupid thing to do, yes. But lets

    not get irrational.

    1. Brenda McViking

      Irrational? not really

      A laser deliberately targeted at an aircraft cockpit is most definitely a hazard and it does blind you temporarily (or for longer, depending on the power output and distance).

      Your arguments about laser shows are mostly irrelevant, I too have seen the HK one and the Singapore one, they are scheduled, limited with short exposure to the sky, and it's obvious to any pilot flying in the area that it's happening. It's not the same as having a pointer targeted at you for a sustained amount of time by any stretch of the imagination.

      A pilot has absolutely no way of knowing the strength of the beam, it may be a fairly harmless 1mW one which will dazzle you for a couple of seconds, or it might be a class IV blu-ray cut from a player and modified for sustained use (freely available on ebay) which will burn your retinas and do irreversible damage. The range on even the smallest of pointers can be several miles, and it does spread out light a torch, so it is perfectly possible to illuminate the entire cockpit from a mile away. Cockpits don't have curtains or blinds - you can't prevent the light entering, and it is very distracting usually at the point where you require most concentration - i.e. low level take off or landing, where the very last thing you need is a distraction that you can't mentally block.

      If you want an example you might relate to, imagine you're on a dark A road at night, approaching an unlit roundabout or intersection at 50mph, when all of a sudden you are lit up by something akin to football stadium lights directly in your path, or hit by the full beams of some other motorist who keeps them on you for more than 10 seconds. That is the kind of distraction and danger that it presents, only in the plane situation you can't slam on the brakes. If you're telling me that is only a nuisance when you're piloting 300 people, and not endangerment, then I'm going to strongly disagree.

      People really don't understand just how dangerous it is, and their huge availibility leads to a blasé attitude to laser use - if it were down to me I'd have them as restricted as say, lab chemicals.

  27. chivo243 Silver badge

    Hilarious Product Placement!

    Did anyone else get served the advert at the top of the comments page for 70% off MiniInTheBox Laser Pointers? Classic!

    p.s. I took a screen shot

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A rumor I heard, every elected member of the government is involved in using these lasers. Please lock them all up under the fullest extent of the law.

    --The taxpayers

  29. Samizdata


    This is why we can't have nice things.

    For those of us that enjoy popping balloons or slicing a cat into lunchmeat with our reasonably powered personal lasers, we have to suffer because some asses have no common sense.

    Unfair, I say, unfair!

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