Thursday, December 30, 2004

Lasers and Airliners

Earlier today, I read a news article from CNN talking about how the US government is concerned about terrorists using laser beams to blind pilots on planes trying to land. Here is an excerpt:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six commercial airliners in the past four days have had
their cockpits illuminated by laser beams while attempting to land, a government
official told CNN Wednesday.
The incidents have happened "all over the place"
and in "kind of odd places," the official said without elaborating.

I'm not sure if people realize how ridiculous a concept this whole thing is. Consider these facts:
  • A laser beam is a completely straight beam of light, that is as wide at its destination as at its source.
  • To blind someone in one eye with a laser, it is necessary to shine the laser beam directly into the iris of the victim's eye at the same time as the victim is looking at the source of the beam. When an airplane is on final approach, the pilots' eyes are focused on either the runway or on the cockpit instruments, so it is extremely unlikely that the pilots would be staring at the beam's source (unless the terrorist is standing like an idiot in the middle of the runway).
  • The iris of a person's eye is about the size of the head of pencil. To hit a target this small is hard enough when it is close. Trying to hit a target this small that is over a mile away, and moving at 200 miles per hour is nearly impossible.
  • In order to actually make the plane crash, a terrorist would have to repeat this whole exercise four times (once for each of the pilot's eyes, and once for each of the copilot's eyes), be accurate enough to pull this off within a few seconds, and would have to hope the pilot and copilot would be so stupid they would keep staring a the laser source even after they realized what is going on. Of course, pilots are not stupid people, and would look away after they realize what is happening.

Using lasers to blind pilots and make planes crash is the most ridiculous concept I have heard in a long time, and I cannot believe someone in the US government actually takes this seriously.

Of course, you can probably guess who the "terrorists" are who illuminated these cockpits over the past four days: little kids living near the airport who got laser-light toys (laser pointers, etc.) in their Christmas stockings on Saturday and who were playing with them, trying to shine the light off a low-flying plane (which if you live near an airport are an everyday sight). Watch out kids... Uncle Sam is onto you.