Accessibility links

Breaking News

Laser Technology to be Used to Warn Straying Pilots

Last December, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department sent a memo to law enforcement agencies saying terrorists may be using laser beams to bring down planes.

In September 2004, a Delta pilot claimed a laser beam injured him as he was about to land his jet in Salt Lake City. Then similar incidents in New Jersey, Oregon and other states.

Since last November, pilots have reported more than a hundred such laser incidents. All of the flights landed safely, but federal officials worried the intense lights could distract, disorient or even temporarily blind a pilot, according to ophthalmology expert Bowles Hamill, “...the retina in the back of the eye can actually become thermally burned from these lasers.”

Now the Air Force is planning to use lasers to warn planes once they stray into the restricted air space over Washington D.C.

But Air Force official Ed Daniel assures the new laser is different than those used by potential terrorists or pranksters. “At five miles [eight kilometers] it's dispersed to a hundred feet [30 meters]. It's not centrally on the pilot's eyeball, but dispersed over an area.”

The No-Fly Zone covers an area over 5,000 square kilometers around Washington DC.

It's the same no fly zone that a small aircraft flew into last week, causing a security breach and evacuation of the Capitol Building and the White House.

Beginning Saturday, if a plane is detected in the No-Fly Zone, a laser beam will be projected towards it to warn the pilot the plane is in forbidden airspace.

The program's goal is to avoid further security incidents and to implement a more cost-effective warning system.

It costs the defense department more than $30,000 to scramble a single fighter. In last week's incident, they scrambled two.

An FAA spokeswoman says private pilots, military, and law-enforcement aircraft have violated the restricted airspace more than a thousand times since the creation of the No-Fly Zone in February 2003.