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Virgin Atlantic co-pilot dazzled by laser

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!

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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??

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

Yes, let's reintroduce Old Testament/Sharia law. What could possibly be wrong with that?

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

"Please do not look into laser with remaining eye"

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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TRT
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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.

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Anonymous Coward

...filters...

http://www.metamaterial.com/lamdaguard

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Vic
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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.

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

???

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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.

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Alert

You need to read about the physics. The lasers are often frequency doubling, an infra red laser pumping a green output laser, for example. You have to block all the colours, green and IR. A better solution might be something like a LCD welder's mask, like Zaphod Beeblebrox's sunglasses, but detecting "lasers" rather than peril...

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

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@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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 ........

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Vic
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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.

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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?

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Re: Eh?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Wouldn't filters

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

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Re: Wouldn't filters

Probably only anti-collision lights and landing lights :P

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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.

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