Aim High

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Courtesy of Drudge comes news that David Banach, the Garden State Laser Man, has been charged under the USA PATRIOT act. FBI officials acknowledge that there is no evidence of terrorism, but say the suspect's actions were "foolhardy and negligent." Banach is a resident of Parsippany—and thus should be prosecuted on general principles. Interestingly, the USA PATRIOT act is being invoked with respect to his attack on a Cessna Citation carrying six people but not the attack two days later on a Port Authority police helicopter investigating the original incident, because helicopters are not classed as "mass transportation vehicles" under the USA PATRIOT act. (I'm using the term "attack" loosely and without presumption of intent; Bardach says he was just demonstrating the laser pointer to his daughter.) Jeff Taylor started an interesting discussion of the feasibility of laser attacks on planes, which Brian Doherty continued yesterday. Fans of General Sir John Hackett's very time-specific bestseller The Third World War: August 1985 may recall that that book included a discussion of laser-blinding as a new means of warfare. If anybody knows of an earlier discussion, I'd be interested.

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  1. I've said what I have to say. Go to the two discussions referenced above for my technical take on it.

  2. reference to an air force spot or to clint eastwood's instructions to renee russo at the end of in the line of fire?

  3. Has there been any theory advanced by the authorities as to what could be the goal of
    the laser-wielder? Some sort of targeting dry-run, perhaps?
    Sounds very much like just average-guy-dicking-around stuff, to me.

  4. won't be long before "PATRIOT act" becomes synonymous with "law" because of the number of frivolous prosecutions made easy through it.

  5. I've said what I have to say. Go to the two discussions referenced above for my technical take on it.

    I think he means you're next to be prosecuted.

  6. "Bardach says he was just demonstrating the laser pointer to his daughter"

    Forget the prosecution.

    Just help him demonstrate how it works by shining it directly into his eyes from two inches away.

  7. "Just help him demonstrate how it works by shining it directly into his eyes from two inches away."

    LOL!

    big props to you and a tip of the hat. hilarious!

  8. I think he means you're next to be prosecuted.

    They'll never catch me! If they send cops, I'll just incinerate them with my laser!

    Assuming, of course, that they stand really still while I make some adjustments to my targeting equipment...

  9. Assuming, of course, that they stand really still while I make some adjustments to my targeting equipment...

    That made me laugh out loud. Now everyone is looking at me.

  10. Ah, what a difference a few years make. I'm suprised no one has mentioned the (alleged) laser attack by a Russian ship suspected to be spying on U.S. sub forces in Puget Sound.

  11. I learned everything I know about laser attacks from that Jonny Quest with the Lizardmen. Ergo, a mirror is a foolproof defense.

    Seriously, these green lasers are sold with a suggested use of pointing out stars. That means pointing them skyward, I think. Anyone want to bet that green lasers are banned or heavily regulated as a result of this little episode?

  12. I don't know about earlier literary discussions, but I believe there have been rumors floating about since the time of the Falklands War that the Royal Navy used laser "dazzle" weapons against Argentinian pilots. Since those pilots frequently made bombing runs at altitudes of literally only a few feet over the water to avoid missile attacks, the flinch induced by a momentary bright flash in the cockpit might well have proven lethal. Aircraft operating under normal conditions would be vastly less vulnerable.

    My guess regarding the current wave of laser reports is that people playing with the latest green laser pointers are directing them at aircraft, that occasionally those beams strike the aircraft's windscreen or its metal framing in such a way that the beam "blooms", causing a flash that sometimes startles pilots, especially when flying at night, whereupon reports get filed and hilarity ensues.

  13. Jeff, if that's true, the Govt is gonna have a hard time getting twelve regular people to send the guy to Camp X-ray for life; hell, the best they could do is convict him Aggravated Stupidity.

  14. That was an attack on a helicopter. A hovering target is much easier than a rapidly moving target (and yes, I realize that hovering helicopters don't stand perfectly still).

    I'd also like to know the altitude of the helicopter and whether it was directly above the ship. The distance affects the laser power requirements, the constraints on the focusing optics, and especially the difficulty of aiming and tracking. A distant object is harder to hit, obviously, because even a small change in angle adds up to a large displacement over a long distance.

    Also, note that the helicopter was apparently able to land safely. I don't mean to diminish the harm to the pilot and photographer, but the fact that they were able to land safely demonstrates that even inflicting an injury is not enough to bring down an aircraft. The injury must be serious enough to cause an immediate loss of vision that is severe enough to render the flight crew unable to maneuver.

    Finally, I have stressed that location matters for laser attacks on pilots. The ship had a line of sight to a nearby, hovering object. A ship has a large power generator and cooling water available, not to mention places to hide equipment. That's very different from finding a high point in or near the flight path with line of sight to the cockpit window, and convenient access for lugging a lot of equipment without attracting attention from building security (on building roofs).

    They could hang out on a hill in a park area and risk a lot of questions from park visitors. Or they could buy a house on top of a hill, but scenic views tend to cost a lot of money. At some point the Al Qaeda Accounting Department is going to ask whether buying that house on a hill in Marina Del Rey (near the airport in LA) was a good idea. "Do you have any idea how many rocket launchers we could buy for the price of a house in Marina Del Rey? And why did you send us a bill for remodeling the hot tub?"

  15. Oh, I was replying to Code Monkey Steve.

  16. "I'm suprised no one has mentioned the (alleged) laser attack by a Russian ship suspected to be spying on U.S. sub forces in Puget Sound."

    I mentioned it here: https://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2004/12/white_vans_lase.shtml#comments (scroll down to 1/3/05, at 10:51 am). I was just working from memory, and I'm glad someone could provide an actual source referring to the incident.

  17. Last night, I beamed my flashlight at a cop car and the officer spilled his coffee, but saved the donut--Just confessing in advance.

  18. Last night, I beamed my flashlight at a cop car and the officer spilled his coffee, but saved the donut--Just confessing in advance.

  19. Maybe the planes should have tinted windows.

    😉

  20. Mr. Cavanaugh,

    Your gratuitous attack on the great State of New Jersey has been noted.

    Crimethink,

    I was thinking of polarized glasses for the pilots but my memory of the physics of lasers is about zero. One would think that such an attack would be fairly easy to defend against - at least up until the point where the laser is powerful enough to penetrate the fuselage.

    QFMC cos. V

  21. http://www.hf.faa.gov/docs/508/docs/cami/0107.pdf

    Laser Pointers: Their Potential Affects on Vision and Aviation Safety

    Federal Aviation Administration
    April 2001

    ...From January 1996 to July 1999, the FAA's Western-Pacific Region identified more than 150 incidents in which low-flying aircraft were illuminated by lasers. Laser pointers were used in the majority of these incidents, and there were several occurrences of visual impairment to the pilot. Representative examples of documented reports are presented that involved the illumination of civilian flight crewmembers by these hand-held devices....

  22. From page 6 of the document posted by "Nobody Important" (page 2 in the report's numbering scheme):

    The survey suggests that helicopters are the most vulnerable to threat of laser pointer illumination, due to their relatively slow movement and low-altitude flight.

    Which is the point that I made earlier in this thread.

    And there are no reported crashes caused by lasers. Causing a commercial passenger plane to crash requires either a fairly sophisticated system or a LOT of luck. Hypothetically, a laser pointer that distracted a pilot at just the right moment might bring down a plane, but there are no such incidents on record. In every recorded incident that I'm aware of the pilot was able to recover from the momentary disorientation. So a lucky flash is very unlikely. Realistically, terrorists would have to cause a few seconds of exposure to a beam powerful enough to cause immediate and lasting eye damage. And that, as I have outlined in other threads, is much more difficult.

  23. What I should really say is that the pilot was able to recover control of the plane and land safely. Some may have suffered permanent eye damage, but I'm not aware of any commercial planes crashing because of lasers.

  24. FWIW here's what I think is going on with the laser incidents...

    The assumption is that the laser is being used as a "weapon". What I think could be happening is intel work by baddies.

    There are laser rangefinders and all kinds of laser based surveying equipment that give very accurate (to the fractional inch) reads on distance and angle off of horizon.

    I don't know about terrorists, but if I were going to scope out airports to shoot down an airplane, I would start by knowing what the standard flight paths for takeoff and landing were. Commercial planes are typically routed at medium sized airports along a set of preset paths that the air traffic controllers revolve based on traffic.

    That is to say, planes take off and get to altitude, or approach, bleed off power, and land along a set group of headings, angles to reach altitude, etc.

    Using laser equipment a person could take measurements of distance, angle and vector. Then with a good map, a straight edge and a basic knowledge of geometry you could plot not only routes and the amount of takeoffs or landings per cycle, but also the optimum launch point for your weapon of choice based on its range, good post-attack escape routes, concealment, etc.

    I don't know if this is what is going on or not, but it seems like a logical possiblity. I hope someone is looking into it.

  25. Oh, fer crissakes. My buddy has a laser thermometer, and we take turns shining the laser dot on the floor to drive his stupid Corgi hysterical trying to catch it. That dog hasn't suffered any more brain damage than it already has, so how bad could this be? Wake me when a real threat hits the country (that, or the media finds something else to monger fear with).

  26. huskermet

    Most range finding and measuring instruments do not use light in the visible spectrum.

    cdunlea

    Common sense does not sell newspapers or get TV news ratings.

  27. Common sense does not sell newspapers or get TV news ratings.

    Nor does it drive policy or the careers of district attorneys who want to be governor.

    Wake me when a real threat hits the country

    It has. The problem is that the threat isn't the laser pointer, it's what the collective morons we call a "government" will do on account of their fears. The primary reason they signed the Patriot Act in the first place wasn't so that they could have the appropriate tools to fight terrorism, but because they loaded their Depends on September 11. They got scared of losing their power, and the Patriot Act was a statement that they would retain it by whatever means necessary. They don't want to protect you, they want to put you in jail.

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