Laser Laser, Burning Bright

Let’s start with some background first.

Jack Burton sent me a link to this website. With $699.99 US you, too, could have owned a handheld laser powerful enough to burn a hole through a plastic cup, or to put a dot on a cloud or tree miles away.

One of the lasers was used a few weeks ago to illuminate the cockpit of a commercial airplane at takeoff. Nothing happened except for an annoyed cockpit crew, and the plane continued on to its destination without incident. The Homeland Security guys felt compelled to issue a warning about it because they’d be in trouble if something did happen and they hadn’t said anything about it.

Now Prof. Reynolds has a post up talking about the commercial plane, and I’m waiting for an instalanche. (Probably won’t happen.)

As you might guess from my previous posts, I’m very skeptical about a terrorist using a laser to good effect. There seem to be so many problems with developing and fielding a working laser that even the US military doesn’t have one in its arsenal yet. But that doesn’t mean that some experimentation isn’t going on.

The go-to guy for info on the possibility for laser weapons (or even for new developments in military gear) is Murdoc Online. Case in point is this post from last year, where Murdoc points out that the Taipei Times is warning about a laser threat. I don’t think it’s any more credible than Murdoc did at the time.

Murdoc also let us know about an experimental laser system that’s mounted on a Humvee. The idea being to use the laser to destroy roadside bombs. I have no idea if it actually worked as advertised or if it’s something that didn’t pan out. Since I haven’t seen any press releases from the companies which make laser gear trumpeting how the US government is sending them large orders, I’d have to say that it probably is something that won’t be showing up any time soon.

Murdoc also has a post where he talks about simple, cheap laser defense. In all fairness the contact lenses mentioned only work against a specific frequency of laser light, but they would work.

So there you have it. Some idiot decides to use his souped-up laser pointer as a prank and Homeland Security warns of terrorists with Star Wars weapons. I suppose the prankster is happy. After all, even though no one knows who he is, he’s still kinda famous now.

8 thoughts on “Laser Laser, Burning Bright”

  1. As an infrequent flyer taking his 10 and 6 year old to Florida tomorrow from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, I’m not sure I’m all that heartened by this debunking of the article Prof. Reynolds links to. Someone was using a laser to ostensibly (according to speculation in the article) “track” a commercial flight at 8,500 feet 15 miles from the airport from a southerastern suburb. Ok, so it won’t blow the thing up like a TIE fighter, but is it the case that the technology for laser *tracking* is so sophisticated as to not be available even to our military? I’m sure that’s not the case.

  2. “….is it the case that the technology for laser *tracking* is so sophisticated as to not be available even to our military?”

    I’m not sure that I understand the question. It looks to me that this is simply a case of some bozo shining his expensive high-powered toy at a plane that was taking off. This talk of tracking the flight merely means that the jerk was following the plane with the beam, so it can’t be a case where the plane accidentaly flew through a laser being used for another purpose.

    If you think that there’s some sort of sophisticated anti-aircraft setup in a backyard in Warrensville Hts., Ohio that’s “tracking” commercial flights taking off, then call the cops. I think it’s more than a little far fetched, myself.


  3. Hey, sounds great to me. No need to call the cops, of course; the story is that the FBI is investigating the incident, the agent of which said “the laser had to have been fairly sophisticated to track a plane traveling at that altitude.”

    So, we’re all set, then. Cool.

  4. “….the story is that the FBI is investigating the incident, the agent of which said “the laser had to have been fairly sophisticated to track a plane traveling at that altitude.”

    Oh, I see. I misunderstood what you were saying. Sorry about that.

    What the agent meant was that gthe laser itself was sort of unusual in that it was pwoerful enough to reach that far. The tracking system itself could be as low tech as someone’s hand.


  5. The problem of lasers has been to make them cheap enough, portable enough, carrying enough power, for them to be useful as battlefield weapons. Terrorists do not have to do that. They can easily obtain a fixed installation and have all the time in the world to build the thing and abandon it after the operation, if they do not blow it in place to make for less evidence. These fixed installations are called houses and apartments and you can get pretty good prices on real estate right under the main runway flight paths. The noise drops property values.

  6. The problem with making lasers useful as battlefield weapons, is that the military is under a constraint terrorists don’t have to worry about: They can’t use blinding somebody as a deliberate attack. And you can do that with much lower power than required to burn holes in things.

    So a portable laser useful to terrorists as a weapon, in the Tom Clancy “blind the pilot while he’s landing” sense, is quite feasible.

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