back to article Virgin Atlantic co-pilot dazzled by laser

A Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York was forced to return to London yesterday after the co-pilot was dazzled by a laser. The flight crew of flight VS205 declared a "Pan-Pan" emergency* shortly after 8pm as the Airbus A340 passed over the west coast of Ireland. The aircraft, carrying 252 passengers and 15 crew, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about adding the penalty of......

    10 Minutes of YOUR Laser pointed directly into each of YOUR eyes?

    That solves two problems and they'll NEVER be able to do it again!

    1. tirk

      Re: How about adding the penalty of......

      I suspect the sort of person that shines a laser at an aircraft doesn't think too much about the consequences for either the aircraft or themselves. What's more, you also have to catch the little darlings before you can punish them, and for every arrest/conviction story there seem to be dozens of ones where there was no-one caught.

      Given that commercially available lasers use only a few restricted light wavelengths, isn't it possible to add filters for these to the cockpit windows??

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: How about adding the penalty of......

        "Given that commercially available lasers use only a few restricted light wavelengths, isn't it possible to add filters for these to the cockpit windows??"

        Yes (and they exist), but.....

        They need to be certified as safe for aviation use, not interfere with daylight operation and have a lifespan in place of at least 10 years.

        I got lased on the ground (whilst driving) a few years ago(*). These bozos aren't using 1-5mW green laser pointers from Maplins. They're high powered and they HURT

        (*) The kind of oik who lases aircraft thinks its funny to lase passing cars and trains too.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: How about adding the penalty of......

          Class 1 and 2 lasers wouldn't have been noticed from 8000 feet in daylight and wouldn't have caused eye damage anyway.

          Class 1: "the output power is below the level at which it is believed eye damage will occur."

          Class 2: "A person receiving an eye exposure from a Class 2 laser beam, either accidentally or as a result of someone else’s deliberate action (misuse) will be protected from injury by their own natural aversion response. This is a natural involuntary response which causes the individual to blink and avert their head thereby terminating the eye exposure. Repeated, deliberate exposure to the laser beam may not be safe."

          Any higher class is dangerous and you would normally have to import them from China.

          But the 1-5mW green pointer lasers from Maplins can be tampered with so that their output power is scarily high. Just change the regulating resistor, simple instructions available on YouTube, the Maplins Laser Pointer can be turned into a burning laser.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: How about adding the penalty of......

          "They need to be certified as safe for aviation use, not interfere with daylight operation and have a lifespan in place of at least 10 years."

          So they should be certified. In fact there's a good argument that NOT being so protected is unsafe. And if they're worn rather than fitted to windows why would they need to not interfere with daylight operation and last 10 years?

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: How about adding the penalty of......

            Multiple frequencies, though. There are commercial systems available that can detect and respond to block very narrow frequencies very quickly. I don't know why they aren't being at least tested.

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: How about adding the penalty of......

              @Doctor syntax, there are already a few certified laser protection goggles out there, but they are very expensive, a lot of airlines don't pay for their pilots to get a pair and they no not fit everyone comfortably. Certification of ANYTHING for aviation use is a long and arduous process and it can take a long time before something like this is accepted

              @TRT

              They are being tested. Like I said above, the process is slow and thorough. The problem is that they need to find a way to make these glasses work for any laser beams but prevent them from filtering for instance the flash of the Anti-collision lights of another aircraft. This is not easy.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: How about adding the penalty of......

                imanidiot "...prevent them from filtering for instance the flash of the Anti-collision lights of another aircraft. This is not easy."

                When a problem is *already* solved, it becomes less important that it was easy or difficult.

                The nano filters notch out two wavelengths of the most common lasers. They're otherwise perfectly transparent. They don't need to filter out any possible laser wavelength, just the most common is an excellent initial solution (for the next decade).

                As long as the other aircraft aren't using laser beams for their anti-collision lights, the filtering shouldn't be a problem. Since they're using incandescent bulbs with a broad spectrum, non-issue.

                1. imanidiot Silver badge

                  Re: How about adding the penalty of......

                  Many aircraft (especially smaller commuter and GA planes) have started using LEDs for Anti-collision lights. LED navigation lights and belly strobe (red/green and red respectively) both use close to/the same wavelengths as laser pointers. This is simply an effect of physics. And while this problem has been recognized and efforts have been made to move the aircraft light wavelenghts just outside the affected wavelengths of the common narrow-band filters aircraft lights COULD be attenuated.

                  And no, even nano filters aren't perfect and can affect other wavelengths in the spectrum. Not nearly as much as the intended one, but there can be damping at other frequencies. Red and green are just very common light colors and exactly the types of colors used for all kinds of safety related stuff. It's very important that pilots vision is not impaired in any way.Te onus is on the manufacturer of the safety goggles to prove they DON'T interfere with the perception of any random aircraft lighting or warning indication to a dangerous/any degree. Which means it is NOT easy to do.

                  1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                    Re: How about adding the penalty of......

                    "Red and green are just very common light colors and exactly the types of colors used for all kinds of safety related stuff."

                    Including approach slope indicators on the ground. I'd imagine not being able to see those wouldn't make for a happy PIC.

                    Red/green colourblindness is the most common form. It's a pity other colours weren't used.

                    1. Vic

                      Re: How about adding the penalty of......

                      Red/green colourblindness is the most common form

                      No pilot has red/green colour blindness. It is tested as part of the initial medical.

                      Vic.

          2. Pete 2 Silver badge

            Re: How about adding the penalty of......

            > And if they're worn rather than fitted to windows

            The difficulty is whether the protective glasses would interfere with the colour rendition of the cockpit displays.

            What I would like to see is detectors in the cockpit to quantify the incidence of laser "attacks". While they are certainly annoying, without some hard data on both the frequency and intensity it seems to me that an effective response is impossible to implement.

            I wonder if any of the passengers noticed the beam? Given that the aircraft must have been miles away from the origin and traveling fast, you'd have to be extremely unlucky for only the cockpit window to get zapped.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: How about adding the penalty of......

        "Given that commercially available lasers use only a few restricted light wavelengths, isn't it possible to add filters for these to the cockpit windows??"

        I was thinking along similar lines. Glasses to be worn when near the ground. It's not particularly new technology. I remember using the converse case - a narrow filter mimicking the sodium doublet at 589.29nm for calibration purposes decades ago.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          ...filters...

          http://www.metamaterial.com/lamdaguard

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Mayhem

        Re: How about adding the penalty of......

        "Please do not look into laser with remaining eye"

  2. jason 7

    So some form of one way glass in the windows or blinker like goggles for landing and takeoff?

    ???

    1. aui

      A number of companies already offer laser protection eyewear ( http://goo.gl/NbGuRD ) not too dissimilar to sunglasses and not much dearer than R*y-B*ns. Yet there is an inertia in the airline industry to buy/wear them.

      Other UK air services already protect their pilots with these or special helmet-mounted visors.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Fibbles

          Automatically changing from transparent to opaque when struck by a laser isn't really going to help improve a pilot's visibility is it?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Symon

          If it is frequency doubling you really only have to block two specific wavelengths. IR is less of a concern since we can't see IR anyway, so no one will miss it if the entire IR spectrum is filtered.

          I agree with the comment that having glasses that detect lasers and darken are no solution, since the pilot is blinded either way! One possible fix (which would take forever to implement due to all the testing required and retrofitting of commercial airlines) would be to get rid of the windows and replace them with displays. If they malfunction during flight (all of them? seems unlikely) then it is an instrument only landing I guess - they do those anyway. This might help since you could "see" in the dark or the fog using IR, radar or whatever.

          Obviously the cameras generating the images for the display would need to be protected against lasers, but that could be easily accomplished by using two or three cameras per display (helping with redundancy) with different color filters on each and combining the images via computer. If one gets 'dazzled' by a laser the computer would detect it and not add it to the image processing - so if a laser hit all that would happen would be your image showing messed up color (or maybe just black and white would be easier) during those few seconds.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: @Symon

            "If it is frequency doubling you really only have to block two specific wavelengths. IR is less of a concern since we can't see IR anyway, so no one will miss it if the entire IR spectrum is filtered."

            Oh dear...

            You stare into this CO2 laser for me will you?

            THe IR bit is actually MORE dangerous than the visible light bit, since you don't notice it until it's done vast amounts of permanent damage to your retina.

            1. DropBear

              Re: @Symon

              "You stare into this CO2 laser for me will you?"

              Pro Tip: actually reading what you're replying to before knee-jerk urge kicks in might help avoid embarrassment.

  3. Efros

    Filters or just control

    Could incorporate a series of filters for the common wavelengths, but with the powerful lasers commonly available now, some sort of legislative control is probably overdue.

    1. scrubber

      Re: Filters or just control

      The pilots' union has just called for lasers > 5mW to be classified as offensive weapons and anyone carrying one without good cause to be arrested and charged like they currently do for knives.

      Because we don't have to prove wrongdoing, or intent of wrongdoing, the mere possibility that you might do wrong is enough in this country. It would also allow for stop and search on a flight paths, i.e. virtually all of London, to see if anyone has a laser pointer in their possession as soon as there is a report of one being used.

      Why do cockpits even have windows that can be got at from the ground? Aren't the instruments inherently better than a pilot's senses? Isn't this the kind of low tech, easily fixable hole that made 9/11 serious enough to justify invading foreign countries and shredding people's rights?

      1. Alister

        Re: Filters or just control

        Because we don't have to prove wrongdoing, or intent of wrongdoing, the mere possibility that you might do wrong is enough in this country. It would also allow for stop and search on a flight paths, i.e. virtually all of London, to see if anyone has a laser pointer in their possession as soon as there is a report of one being used.

        If you can come up with any legitimate reason for someone to be walking around the streets with a high-powered laser on them then I'd be interested to hear it.

        Why do cockpits even have windows that can be got at from the ground? Aren't the instruments inherently better than a pilot's senses? Isn't this the kind of low tech, easily fixable hole that made 9/11 serious enough to justify invading foreign countries and shredding people's rights?

        Seriously?

        You sound like you want the aircraft industry to completely re-design and rebuild every aircraft, and for every pilot to be extensively re-trained just to satisfy some weird self righteous notion you have.

        1. scrubber

          Re: Filters or just control

          "If you can come up with any legitimate reason for someone to be walking around the streets with a high-powered laser on them then I'd be interested to hear it."

          Yeah, that's not how freedom works, I believe the burden is on you to come up with a compelling reason why people shouldn't be allowed to walk around with high powered lasers.

          But, since you're looking for reasons: A portable metal cutter/welder; a way to mark objects that are otherwise fairly immune to permanent marking; a long-distance, highly accurate measuring device; a portable signal if you're even lost in the wilderness; a cool balloon burster; a firelighter; a way to check for, and possibly clear, blockages in long, straight pipes; and a million other things that people might want to use it for that are not dangerous.

      2. RPF

        Re: Filters or just control

        Ever driven a car with no windows?

        How exactly would the aircraft get to/from the runway, even if they wanted to do auto lands every flight?

        Talk about the tail ( of your "logic" ) wagging the dog ........

        1. scrubber

          Re: Filters or just control

          Something along the lines of this: http://londonist.com/2014/09/a-ride-on-heathrows-self-driving-pods

          Or this: https://www.google.com/selfdrivingcar/

          It's not like there's traffic, of any reason there couldn't be other guides on or under the tarmac for the planes to follow.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            Re: Filters or just control

            @Scrubber, self flying planes are a LONG way off. And we are even further from solving the problems with autonomous planes than we are for solving the autonomous vehicle problems. (And yes, that 3rd dimension makes everything much much more complex. The distances involved are far greater, so you need better sensors, the area to be monitored is far greated (360 degree sphere instead of semi 2d plane) and vehicle guidance in high traffic situations is much much more complex.

      3. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Filters or just control

        Why do cockpits even have windows that can be got at from the ground? Aren't the instruments inherently better than a pilot's senses? Isn't this the kind of low tech, easily fixable hole that made 9/11 serious enough to justify invading foreign countries and shredding people's rights?

        Because no amount of electronics can be enough failsafe to not need the Mk1 Eyeball if the proverbial hits the fan. When making a handflown landing you need depth perception beyond what a camera system can provide. AFAIK Instrument landing isn't an option in case of a near total power system, the navigation system isn't an essential instrument and gets shut down in case of power failure. Even with todays modern systems it's something pilots prefer to avoid if at all possible and that is not because they want to handfly the plane out of some form of inflated ego. There is just much more that can go wrong on a cat3 ILS blind approach and its a very tense time in the cockpit. Doing a cat3 in a powerfailure situation is most likely not going to end well. Doing a cat3 without any sort of lookout option is just highly impossible.

      4. Vic

        Re: Filters or just control

        Why do cockpits even have windows that can be got at from the ground? Aren't the instruments inherently better than a pilot's senses?

        No.

        Being able to see where you are going is inherently easier and safer than relying on instruments. IFR is for when there's nothing better...

        Vic.

  4. David Knapman

    Eh?

    I can't make sense of the geography here:

    > as the Airbus A340 passed over the west coast of Ireland.

    Okay. So it was well into its flight then?

    > apparently targeted by a laser some six or seven miles west of Heathrow

    Now, either the laser was "six or seven" miles west of Heathrow, but somehow they were able to aim into the cockpit of a plane quite far away and heading west? Or the plane itself was "six or seven" miles west of Heathrow and the British Isles are significantly smaller than I thought it was?

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Eh?

      They called the emergency over Ireland, having been hit as they headed out of Heathrow. I don't know the reason for the delay in turning back.

      1. Jason Bloomberg

        Re: Eh?

        They called the emergency over Ireland, having been hit as they headed out of Heathrow. I don't know the reason for the delay in turning back.

        My cynical guess would be that it took that long to decide / work out how to best exploit the incident without getting blamed / sacked for turning back.

        Job done, I'd say.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Eh?

          The co-pilot was unwell so having already pass over the whole of Ireland and arrived over the Atlantic they turned back ignoring Shannon and Dublin and continued all the way to London.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Eh?

            Yep, this situation was urgent but not an emergency so it made sense from to not continue to the journey but return to base; easier and cheaper than flying a relief crew out to Ireland.

            If it has been an emergency they would have landed probably in Ireland.

    2. Thecowking

      Re: Eh?

      Neither.

      Incident happens, crew assess the impact, by the time they decide they need to declare the problem, they are already over Ireland.

      The two events are causally linked but not simultaneous.

      Gah, pipped to the post, literally in this case.

    3. Zog_but_not_the_first
      Alert

      Re: Eh?

      Quite. This represents amazing "marksmanship". How were the miscreants able to score a hit on the plane? Blind luck? Or do they use telescopic sights? In which case isn't this is a serious attack on a civilian aircraft.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Eh?

        I dunno, Zog - I haven't tried this myself - but with a fairly powerful laser and a dark night I'd expect a certain amount of backscatter from particles in the atmosphere. Effectively a long finger from your hand direct to the target?

      2. jason 7

        Re: Eh?

        Well I was thinking the same thing and I guess you could mount a laser on a broomstick and some cheap binoculars so you could see the hit point. I'm sure a telescopic 4x30 sight off a mates nicked air rifle would do even better.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Eh?

          I'm sure a telescopic 4x30 sight off a mates nicked air rifle would do even better.

          Correct.

          You now can create an effective weapon capable of blinding a person for a considerable amount of time out of off the shelf components.

          It leaves no traces, is absolutely silent and if the pulse is short enough there is absolutely no way in hell to "trace you back" following the "Sci-Fi effects" back to the orign.

      3. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: Eh?

        I've heard about kids at overpasses and tunnels using lasers. As I live under a 'stacking lane' for Amsterdam Schiphol, I often wonder when I look up how in hell are kids shining lasers way up there and hitting anything? and how do they hit the upper side of the aircraft where the cockpit is usually located. And... the thought of hunting rifles with laser sights, something more than a pen, it's probably not kids... and not something they bought at the corner shop.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Eh?

          The cockpit windows are crazed with thousands of tiny scratches, and dirt so when the laser hits the glass it refracts throughout the pane and makes the entire windows effectively opaque.

          At that distance (this incident) a distance of 8000 feet would see considerable spread on the beam, even with a collimated lens, but it would need to be very dark and a strong laser.

          1. nijam Silver badge

            Re: Eh?

            > ... a distance of 8000 feet would see considerable spread on the beam, even with a collimated lens...

            What? So not a laser at all then?

    4. beerfuelled

      Re: Eh?

      I think the incident happened near Heathrow, but they were over Ireland by the time they decided to turn back.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eh?

      I don't really understand why they turned back.

      The most dangerous part of a flight is takeoff and landing. By diverting back to England they brought forward the landing by several hours. If the co-pilot was needed during landing the plane would have been more at risk.

      If they had continued with the flight, the co-pilot would not be needed for a long time and would have plenty of time to recover. By the time they land he's probably feeling fine.

  5. Triggerfish

    Wouldn't filters

    Block out the useful parts of the light spectrum as well?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wouldn't filters

      Probably only anti-collision lights and landing lights :P

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Wouldn't filters

      "Block out the useful parts of the light spectrum as well?"

      Interference filters can have very sharp responses. As they're thin films deposited on a glass substrate it would be practical to have several filters laid down on a visor blocking just a few nanometres of the visible spectrum in total.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Wouldn't filters

        If you did that how restricted are the frequencies of the lasers are they not variabe enough you would end up effectively blocking a wide band?

  6. Anonymous Blowhard

    Amazing to think how few serious incidents there are when we have an over-abundance of morons and lasers are so cheap.

    Also amazing to think you can legally purchase on eBay a device which is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      The protocol applies to lasers designed specifically as blinding weapons. These are laser pointers, not weapons; it's the same distinction as between a kitchen knife and a bayonet, or a nailgun and a pistol. Both can be used to cause harm but only one of each of the examples is designed for that purpose. The protocol doesn't apply to lasers which are designed to act as pointing devices. The wiki page even points out a number of military exceptions to the protocol.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        @Graham,

        I would hardly call an engraving laser a "pointer".

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      "Also amazing to think you can legally purchase on eBay a device which is prohibited "

      Most engraver/cutting lasers on eBay are of the non-visible spectrum type. They're invisible. Also, a sheet of Perspex will block the beam. There are engraver/cutting lasers that are visible and will cut right through acrylics or glass but those are rather pricey and non-portable.

      From the reports, these attacks are using visible spectrum lasers which will penetrate acrylics/glass. The key is visible spectrum.

  7. JonW
    Pirate

    Simple solution, me hearties.

    Pilots wear an eye patch below 2000 feet. That was the plan back when the RAF had a strike role - bucket of instant sunshine gets a bit bright and you dazzle yourself? Use other eye - simple.

    1. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

      Re: Simple solution, me hearties.

      That would be "dazzle" as in blind.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Simple solution, me hearties.

      I'm sure the total lack of depth perception is going to be a great help too.

  8. Phil Endecott

    Technological solution

    Legislating about this is as likely to change anything as increasing the fine for littering.

    For once, a technological solution might be the most effective. Presumably the military must have some ideas; they must have worked out that dazzling your opponent with a laser was a good idea long ago, and worked out how to protect themselves against it.

    1. fnusnu

      Re: Technological solution

      Dropping a bomb on chavs might not go down well with the general population

      1. Commswonk

        Re: Technological solution

        Dropping a bomb on chavs might not go down well with the general population

        FTFY

      2. MrXavia
        Mushroom

        Re: Technological solution

        "Dropping a bomb on chavs might not go down well with the general population"

        I am not sure you'd get too many complaints...

    2. Commswonk

      Re: Technological solution

      Sorry about adjacent postings, but...

      For once, a technological solution might be the most effective. Presumably the military must have some ideas; they must have worked out that dazzling your opponent with a laser was a good idea long ago, and worked out how to protect themselves against it.

      I don't think your logic works. The military may have worked out some sort of measures but as has already been pointed out laser - based weapons do seem to be inconsistent with the Geneva Convention so the "protection" might just rely on that Convention. In addition, although the military don't really like taking casualties it is accepted that casualties will happen. I don't think that acceptance is open to civil aircraft operators, and I very much doubt if they would have many paying passengers if it was known that casualties (in the form of visually impaired pilots, and probably their passengers) were acceptable.

      Legislative changes are required as a matter of urgency to stop the spread of higher - powered lasers to those who have no demonstrable need for them, and to make selling, supplying, procuring, attempting to procure, owning, using, or attempting to use a high - powered laser without proper cause offences in their own right, rather than having to rely on "endangering an aircraft".

      Catching anyone misusing a laser must be hard enough (to the point of near impossibility) but to find someone in possession of one, and suspecting past or future misuse, but being unable to do anything about it because they weren't caught in flagrente dilecto would be a waste of police resources and leave the travelling (flying) public and the pilots at continuing risk.

      1. FrogsAndChips
        Facepalm

        Re: Geneva Convention

        Relying on the Geneva Convention to define your protection measures is like saying you don't need an alarm system on your house because burglary is illegal.

      2. Mayhem

        Re: Technological solution

        The military solution is to take off with one eye blocked by a patch. If it gets dazzled, you swap to the other. More for nuclear strikes than lasers though.

        Also I like my pilots *with* depth perception on take off and landing.

        1. Richard Boyce

          Re: Technological solution

          "Also I like my pilots *with* depth perception on take off and landing."

          Two eyes a few inches apart don't add much depth perception when looking at the runway. At that distance, you're relying on other cues.

          1. RPF

            Re: Technological solution

            Actually depth perception is quite an important part of landing, especially in the later stages.

    3. TimeMaster T
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Technological solution

      A laser guided .50cal round would be better. Already developed and has a max range approaching 8 miles and a flight time of seconds. Of course there is always the risk that it would hit someone standing NEXT to the dip head with the laser. Though that would cut down on the likelihood people would hang out with idiots who get their jollies shooting lasers at planes.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simple solution: rewards

    I'd offer proper rewards for catching such idiots, only paid out after successful prosecution to prevent every idiot with a flashlight being reported.

    Sure, it will initially cost some money, but I reckon it's probably going to take considerably less money than paying out after an airplane crashes because of this idiocy. Even the most abject fool will think twice if the risk gets too high, and if not they'll soon be caught by someone.

    Making the morons who do this stare into their own laser may prove educational but a couple of years in gaol with rumours that they are child abusers works for me too.

    As for banning lasers, think of the children cats..

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do you fire a laser into an upward facing plane at 8000ft? Surely you would have to be higher that the plane? I may be wrong, I'm sure someone will point out how this was technically possible because I can;t work it out.

    1. Lee D

      Climb angles aren't that steep.

      Be in front of it. Or to the side of it.

      The pilots still have to be able to see, they don't have a pinhole camera, but a huge window.

      You don't need DIRECT light with a laser this powerful to cause damage. They are dazzling and the front of a shiny metal plane with glass tends to be... well, shiny. A pinpoint on the ground is a cabin-filling brightness in the air, still bright enough to dazzle.

      That's why these things are damn dangerous and shouldn't be in those people's hands anyway. You could blind someone with a tiny flash at ground level.

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

        During the Falklands War the UK deployed a laser dazzle weapon. It relied on the fact that an aircraft canopy/window would scatter the light and affect the pilots vision. There was no need, nor intention, to blind or dazzle the pilot by the beam directly entering the eye.

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

          Replying to my own post, I'll be up-voting me next.

          Thinking of the utility (as a non-pilot) of the dazzle weapon its intent is not to temporarily or permanently blind the pilot. If you are polling along at 300 knots over San Carlos Water Jolly Jack Tar is going to be throwing everything he has at you. (Including, according to one hearsay verbal report, a NAAFI pork pie.) Thus the pilot is going to be as low as he dares to avoid the more effective AA - Seacat etc. Dazzle him for even a short time and the instinctive reaction will be to pull up, exposing him to more effective fire. Equally, stick down would be a win for us.

          Perhaps Lester knows more?

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      If you are far enough ahead (or to the side), then you can shine into the front windows - in case you hadn't noticed, the cockpit windows are primarily for forward vision (with quite a bit of sideways vision) and they don't actually have that much upwards vision ;-) Even if you don't have direct line of sight to the pilot/co-pilot's eyes, you only need to get into any of the windows and you'll get reflections around the cockpit. From the side, you probably have a better bet at hitting a crew member.

      As for aiming, well to start with you have an aiming device built in since in most atmospheric conditions you'll get a line of light visible from all the water droplets and dirt particles scattering the light. A bit like tracer rounds but travelling at the speed of light ! You only need a momentary hit to cause problems.

      But as mentioned, the problem is catching the b'stards. Apart from the clueless f**kwit who decided to shine one at a Police helicopter with high quality video recording, most are unlikely to be caught other than by chance. Short of equipping all aircraft with high-res video cameras, I can't see any easy way round that fundamental problem.

      Offering rewards is unlikely to be any good - all the accused has to say is they didn't shine it at an aircraft and they are off the charge. No evidence, no conviction. I doubt if many people are that disliked that multiple (enough to convince a judge) of their "mates" will stand up in court and testify that they did in fact laser an aircraft !

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Presumably the easiest way to score a conviction will be to show the jury the you tube video they post up marked 'me and me mates shinning a lit at a plain, lol'.

        But maybe this is a time for a return to the Q-ship concept - fly a plane or two around at night with those high res cameras, and have a ground crew ready to pounce, follow it up with a deterrent style sentence, and sue the importer while you are about it.

        Even better, borrow a few Ospreys, and get the marines ready to abseil down ropes - I'd love to see their faces when the plane they shone the light at spins around and heads straight for them.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "Apart from the clueless f**kwit who decided to shine one at a Police helicopter with high quality video recording, most are unlikely to be caught other than by chance."

        They regularly get away with lasing the police choppers.

        All you need to do is stand outside a pub. When helicoptor comes over, step inside and blend in.

        The local "sports bar" CCTV system has outside cameras but they're always on the blink when the cops want to use them to see who was lazing aircraft.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          The local "sports bar" CCTV system has outside cameras but they're always on the blink when the cops want to use them to see who was lazing aircraft.

          Sounds like a good way to ensure their drinks licence isn't renewed next time.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            "Sounds like a good way to ensure their drinks licence isn't renewed next time."

            And very frequent visits to check licensing conditions are being complied with before the renewal.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            You'd think so, but they somehow managed to retain their license after multiple busts for serving underage drinkers (one was 15)

            The neighbours have been complaining about the place for years but I suspect the cops want all the local villains in one place.

        2. Sub 20 Pilot

          In that case get the police to bust the place once a week every week at their busiest time and make life difficult for the useless cunts running the place who are happy to aid and abet this by refusing to pass the CCTV over. Play the fuckers at their own game, that is the only way to deal with morons who know their rights but no idea of their responsibilities.

    3. RPF

      You can see down from the cockpit (and therefore v.v.).

  11. Velv
    Joke

    The Military solved this problem a long time ago - launch a missile at anything that targets you...

  12. Nifty Silver badge

    Deterrents and protection are possible

    Since there can be a strong terrorist angle on this, I'm expecting the following development:

    - A laser detection kit, attaches to underside of plane, has GPS. Instantly sends ground coords of incoming laser to the local police. Probably exists already in some military form, just the airlines don't want to afford it. So I don't agree with commswonk above "Catching anyone misusing a laser must be hard enough (to the point of near impossibility)"

    - LCD technology built into planes windscreen, to black out when laser is detected by the item above. It can receive a signal and black out all frequencies like a welding helmet does until the laser disappears.

    This protects the pilots so they can resume full control for the rest of the flight. A clear windscreen with a laser shining into it is no more use than a blacked out one.

    You can even buy the technology on Amazon - "Filter will turn from clear to dark state, response time is less than 1/30000S".

    Passengers will be much happier when they know their airline has adopted these things, remember, some airlines had an early policy of not flying over Ukraine, others didn't.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How high?

    "targeted...while at an altitude of 8,000ft"

    That seems to be some pretty fancy shooting.

    An aircraft is a mile and a half up in the air, it's probably climbing to its assigned flight level (ie, pointing in an upwards direction) and moving at, what, 2-300 knots ground speed - and it's hit by a narrow beam of intense light coming from the ground.

    That doesn't sound to me like the work of your average slack-jawed scrote playing with his new toy.

    1. Mayhem

      Re: How high?

      A Wicked Laser Arctic Spyder 3 has a power of over 2W, and a direct range of some 30 miles before it isn't obviously visible. 8000ft is only 1.5 miles, with a bit of dust in the air to aim your beam, it is literally child's play to point it at the plane. Point your finger at a moving plane, you can easily follow it, they don't move that fast at low level. Painting the cockpit directly is luck more than anything else, with a window being a smaller target still, but aim at every flight out of Heathrow on a clear winter night and your odds go up substantially. The scrotes are probably aiming for the tail and hitting the other end from jitter from their arm.

      Heck, I can think of half a dozen simple ways to stabilise the beam off the top of my head, and mounting some binoculars alongside it so you can see the light sparkle off the plane better is easy enough.

    2. John Bailey

      Re: How high?

      "That doesn't sound to me like the work of your average slack-jawed scrote playing with his new toy."

      Really?

      Cos it sounds to me exactly like some slack-jawed scrote waving the thing about in the general direction of a plane, and getting lucky.

      The laser only needs to hit for a fraction of a second. It doesn't need to be trained on something specific. Do it often enough and a "hit" is inevitable.

    3. MD Rackham

      Re: How high?

      I can easily hit the power lines 2+ miles from my house using a 500mW green laser pointer held in my hand.

      I've never tried hitting a plane because I've mastered the whole actions/consequences thing, plus they are already at about 15,000' by the time they're over my house.

      As others have pointed out, the atmospheric backscatter makes the beam easily visible. Which is why it works so well as a star pointer, the reason I bought it in the first place. (Although I suppose some Jovian pilot may have complained when I pointed out the planet to my wife the other night.)

  14. Adam 52 Silver badge

    It'll be interesting to see some proper analysis of this when the AAIB report comes out.

    Turning back because the copilot felt a unwell is all well and good. Is there any evidence this was related to the laser pointer or was it the dodgy curry he had the night before? And this magic illness is undetectable to medical science?

    I've got an eye condition that makes me particularly sensitive to bright lights but I don't become incapable at a short flash.

    BALPA calling for a ban on the basis of no evidence whatsoever is silly, just as we all said when Australia implemented their ban, but BALPA seem to be in a ban everything campaign at the moment.

    1. Darryl

      I've got a similar eye condition - makes driving at night with oncoming headlights a real pain. However, it's nothing compared to getting a blast from a laser in your eye. Even a cheap laser pointer can damage the retina.

    2. Sub 20 Pilot

      And when some turd does manage to bring down a plane a lot of people will be running around asking why did they not do anything...

  15. Will 20

    Have some laser detection gear, and fire a more powerful laser right back - probably enough to discourage any more tagging...

  16. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Dont we

    have things called 2000lb paveways that can target the source of the laser illumination even after its been turned off?......

    Failing that, we can always define the act of blinding pilots as an act of terrorism, and get the little chavs a trip to Cuba, water sport.. sorry boarding included.

  17. Fazal Majid

    Cars?

    Given how some hooligans delight in dropping cinder blocks onto traffic from an overpass or pedestrian bridge, I am surprised this isn't done more frequently to cars.

    These offenses should be treated as attempted murder. There was a guy in California who was caught and sentenced to a stiff sentence, 14 years IIRC, but that was later reduced to a mere 5 years by a bleeding heart judge.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Cars?

      "Given how some hooligans delight in dropping cinder blocks onto traffic from an overpass or pedestrian bridge, I am surprised this isn't done more frequently to cars."

      It is. It's less reported on than lasing aircraft, but having been lazed with a high-powered device (it fucking hurts) and having seen a driver in front of me swerve violently when lazed, it's even more likely to cause mayhem than lazing an aircraft.

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: Cars?

        It's a lot easier to catch someone on "the bridge over the M25 just after jn 14" than "on the ground somewhere west of Slough"

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Cars?

          I wish it was easier.

          By the time the cops show up, the scrotes are long-gone. As mentioned earlier if the police helicopter shows up, they dunk into the nearest pub when they get bored of painting it.

          They _know_ to the minute how long it takes the police to arrive after a 999 call and will simply melt away a minute or so before the cars show up.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FFS, pilots, just wear the effing glasses, nobody is going to point at you and laugh at you (except the knob with the laser and he can't see your face)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The flight computer's doing the takeoff and landings anyway.

      1. RPF

        You sound just like the moron with the laser. You're just as wrong.

      2. Sub 20 Pilot

        Why not get a fucking clue what you are talking about and post under your own name if you are going to make such statements. Moron.

  19. Ed Mozley

    One way mirrors

    I have just written to Airbus and Boeing suggesting they replace Windows and wind shield in cockpit with 1 way mirror glass. Pilots can see and lasers from ground are reflected away from aircraft. Could such a plan work?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One way mirrors

      Pilots can see and lasers from ground are reflected away from aircraft

      You want glass that prevents light from getting from the outside in, and still think the pilot will be able to see out??

      1. Ed Mozley

        Re: One way mirrors

        The kind of glass that you have in a police line up - not that I've ever been in one ha!

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: One way mirrors

          "The kind of glass that you have in a police line up - not that I've ever been in one ha!"

          It works by splitting the light, some reflected, some transmitted. If the witness is watching from a darkened room there's little light coming through and it's easily swamped by the reflected light from the room where the line-up is taking place. Inside the viewing room there's little light being reflected back so it doesn't interfere with the light from the viewing room.

          There's nothing "one way" about it, it's just a coating that reflects some but not all light. If both sides of the mirror are well lit each side will see a dim reflection and a dim transmitted image.

      2. Ed Mozley

        Re: One way mirrors

        Hang in you're right.... Not thought it through!!

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: One way mirrors

      I have just written to Airbus and Boeing suggesting they replace Windows

      Most of the stuff in the cockpit nowadays is either based on Linux, or embedded. But it was a useful suggestion anyway.

    3. 27escape
      Happy

      Re: One way mirrors

      I thought pilots all wore 'cool' mirrored sunglasses anyway

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One way mirrors

      Mirror glass works on the fact that glass + dark background is already reflective and then adds some reflective material. Fitting that to a cockpit would mean having to keep it darker than the outside, which is a challenge if you fly at night with luminous instruments.

      I think the welding hood glass idea is better, provided a reliable way can be worked out to pick up a laser beam from any angle to ensure it triggers. That system is not only fast, it also demands next to nothing in power so it's easy to make the power supply for it redundant and pilots are already no longer wearing polarised sunglasses because of the LCD instruments.

      I would personally favour launching a small laser guided missile, but you can never depend on idiots to keep the thing lit long enough. I'm not worried about hitting someone else, thanks to the US we can now just call it collateral damage and then it's all OK. Besides, it may encourage others to stop idiots using lasers on planes for sheer self preservation. Winners all around...

  20. Kevin (Just Kevin)
    Facepalm

    Units of measurement

    "more than 8998"? Seriously?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      tiptoeing past

      It's over 9000!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Ray-Bans'

    BAN, BAN, BAN ,BAN, BAN, BAN, BAN, BAN........JUST BAN BREATHING....PROBLEM SOLVED!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Filters...

    http://www.metamaterial.com/lamdaguard

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Filters...

      I would want to see that demonstrated before I believe it. The industry is replete with people who offer "solutions" which are anything but, the most egregious one IMHO the IED detector made from a golf ball seeker.

  23. John Geek
    Boffin

    i've got a couple fairly high power chinese green laser pointers. comparing them with an older one that I know is just about 4mW, I'd estimate these powerful ones to be in the 50mW range.... their beam is NOT very well collimated. it might be 1mm wide at the exit, but its about 15mm wide at a distance of 12 meters. at 2500 meters (8000 feet), it would be 3 meters across, which hugely reduces the brigthness of the beam. To hit the cockpit of a plane flying at 2500 meters, you'd have to be shining them from even farther away (straight up would hit the underside of the jet, not the cockpit), so the beam would be even more diffused.

  24. LunarTick

    Simple and cheap solution

    Just install some window blinds ffs...

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Simple and cheap solution

      You want your pilots to be blind while trying to land?

      Remind me never to get aboard an aircraft with you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Simple and cheap solution

        It must have been quite late for you to have missed the whooshing sound. As far as I can tell that was a joke :)

  25. Triggerfish

    Eagles

    Come on surely we can train drone hunting eagles to hone in on laser beams. 4Kg of Golden Eagle talons out diving towards you at 150mph, could be an effective detterent.

  26. David Roberts
    Black Helicopters

    However in the real world......

    All those happy people who are enthusiastic about permanent injury and death for idiots waving laser pointers might first like to test the practicality on those convicted of gun and knife crime. Of course this might make the UK seem slightly uncivilised.

    Firing back down the laser beam sounds just and proportianate until of course some knob leaves a fixed laser behind taped to the roof of a hospital, just for a laugh.

    Main reality check, however; if there isn't the personpower to investigate burglaries, there are no police on the beat and precious few on the roads, the police are not effective despite clear legislation at preventing the possession of firearms and knives then how effective is new legislation likely to be?

    Stick the airports out in the sticks where there is cleared land (or sea) all around and simple security measures can spot intruders and you might be able to protect incoming and outgoing flights from attack.

    Leaving airports in the middle of built up areas makes effective policing impossible even if you increased the personpower by 10 times. You would need regular vehicle and foot patrols, stop and search, free entry to any premises, constant overhead patrols and more. Police state on steroids.

    TL;DR legislation is very rarely the answer. Enforce existing legislation effectively before you add more.

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: However in the real world......

      Doesn't the backscatter give the pointer away ?

      Mount a set of cameras covering the airport with a field of view wide enough to cover the risk zone (about 10 miles, so maybe the cameras 10 miles or so from the airport). Filter them so they don't see much apart from common laser wavelengths like 532nm. Trigger when two or more cameras see a line simultaneously and calculate where the line starts. You get a lot of readings - multiple video frames and multiple pixels, so good accuracy without a stupidly high resolution camera. Probably multiple events too.

    2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: However in the real world......

      Main reality check, however; if there isn't the personpower to investigate burglaries, there are no police on the beat and precious few on the roads, the police are not effective despite clear legislation at preventing the possession of firearms and knives then how effective is new legislation likely to be?

      Good point. It would suck if you were on the plane with the uneven ID..

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