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Every Day Over the U.S., Eleven Airplanes Are Hit by Lasers

Every Day Over the U.S., Eleven Airplanes Are Hit by Lasers

To say that lasing—pointing a laser beam at an airplane or helicopter from the ground—is "on the rise" is an understatement. According to the latest FBI figures there were nearly 4,000 laser strikes last year, an average of just about 11 per day. That's a more than 1,100 percent increase since the agency started tracking them a decade ago.
So the Feds are stepping up their game. The FBI announced today it will offer a $10,000 reward for any information that helps police bust laser criminals. It's also launching a two-month campaign to educate the public about the dangers of laser terrorism.
Dangerous it is indeed, so much so that laser pen shenanigans are now an official terrorist threat, considered an "epidemic" by the agency, and as of 2012 a felony crime that can land you up to five years in prison.   
For good reason. What's just a dot of light when pointed a few feet away can illuminate an entire cockpit after the light diffuses as it travels, and the flash is as intense as those painfully bright camera flashes or when someone drives by you with their high beams on.
"What was a pinhole size beam on the ground is now a couple of feet wide in the sky," explains the latest FBI warning video (above). "The expanded beam temporarily blinds pilots, preventing them from seeing the flight controls."
You know the feeling: For a second you're totally blind, and then there's that blurriness afterward and you can still see a residual mark floating around outside your eyeball—it's called “after imaging.”
Image: Wikimedia

Now imagine that happening while you're trying to land an aircraft carrying 300 passengers. I mean, I wouldn't want to be on that plane. A powerful enough laser pointed at a landing jet—which is closer to the offender on the ground—can burn a pilot's retina. As of this past December 35 pilots have needed medical care after a laser strike, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Still, people think lasing is hilarious. Tim Childs of the Federal Air Marshal Service said an earlier FBI press release that the majority of laser criminals are young, first-time offenders that were peer-pressured into the prank or just acting like idiots, as teenagers do. The other camp is generally older men "with reckless disregard for the safety of others."

The reason the problem keeps getting worse despite law enforcement's best efforts (a year ago the FBI created the "Laser Strike Working Group National Initiative") is partly because it keeps getting easier to get your hands on these toys-cum-terrorist weapons. As laser technology advances, the price drops, and more powerful, industrial-strength handheld lasers are now commercially available.
So for 50 bucks you can buy a battery-powered laser pen that can beam a green ray of light all the way to the sky. Which admittedly is pretty cool, until to you're responsible for crashing a 747. That hasn’t happened, but there have been several high-profile instances of commercial pilots becoming temporarily blinded and disoriented while trying to land the aircraft, and pranksters getting arrested for fucking around with laser pointers. Now the FBI is hoping that dangling a $10K carrot in front of the public can help nip this trend in the bud.
TOPICS: laserslaser strikesFBIpowerterrorismairplanes


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