A Salina, Kansas-based pilot flying a small plane got lit up by a laser the other night, and he had the presence of mind to get video of it and report it to air traffic controllers. The local police responded, but it’s not clear if they’ve made an arrest, but they likely will. After all, there’s video evidence of it.
How bad is the threat? It’s a serious one. With very powerful, so-called “hobby lasers” available online for a couple hundred dollars, aircraft flying even at the flight levels (that is, 18,000 feet and above) can be hit by these lasers, and the risk of injury to the flight crew is quite high, all the way through the altitudes normally flown by small planes.
Just how stupid are people who point lasers at aircraft? Remarkably. First, they don’t know how dangerous it is—or they do but don’t care. Pilots have been incapacitated by laser hits before, luckily in an airplane with another crew member, so the danger is very real. It’s also really easy to figure out where the laser shot came from, and surprisingly, the idiots who do it often do it from in front of their residence.
But it gets worse. The laser shooters are, obviously, doing the misdeed at night, and in looking for target, they often hit low-flying helicopters. What the geniuses don’t get is that those low-flying helicopters are more often than not law enforcement aircraft, so their lasers serve as a homing device for those law enforcement officers, who use their nine-billion-watt (approximate made-up value) illuminators to quickly flip the script and put the suspect in the spotlight.
A couple of suggestion from the several pilots who had previously been hit by lasers are good to bear in mind.
- Don’t look directly at the laser. It seems obvious, but it’s hard not to. Just don’t.
- Turn off the nav lights and landing light if on. It makes it much harder for the idiots to aim their lasers.
- Report it immediately to controllers. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking with. Tell them.
It’s a sad state of affairs that people would put others at risk by such behavior, but that’s the world we live in…and fly over. Be careful out there!