Frickin’ Laser Beams

Posted by: on Jan 12, 2005 | No Comments

Good gravy, here we go again. Now we have Norm Mineta (token asian conservative! quick, give him something to do!) trotting out all sorts of dire warnings about laser beams being aimed at airplanes. Ohhhhh. Scary.
Not. Patrick Smith (“Ask The Pilot”) in Salon 12/17/2004:

Owing to our nation’s everlasting fixation with terrorism — real or perceived — I’m forced to begin this column by talking about something that doesn’t deserve half a minute of our time: laser beams. If you caught the news over the past week or so, you heard the bizarre warning: Terrorists may attempt to blind airline crews by aiming high-intensity lasers through the cockpit windows during approach and landing.
I almost can’t believe I typed that sentence, but the paranoiacrats at the Department of Homeland Security, along with the FBI, passed along a memo claiming that terrorists — though it never admitted which ones, where, or how the agencies knew — have explored the viability of using laser devices as weapons. Lasers are able to cause temporary blindness and serious eye injury, the ramifications of which are obvious if involving an aircrew during a critical phase of flight.
For the record, even a well-aimed laser would be highly unlikely to cause a crash. Hitting both pilots cleanly in the face, through a refractive wraparound windshield, would require a great deal of luck, and even a temporarily blinded crew would still have the means to avoid disaster. Do not equate the results of a laser strike with, for example, having to drive sightless through a busy intersection. Maintaining a jet’s stability would be challenging under the circumstances, but not impossible.
The idea of terrorists bothering with such a plan is tough to accept. Say there’s a 10 percent chance of a laser causing an accident. With limited resources and personnel, it’s doubtful terrorists are going to risk exposure on an operation with a 90 percent likelihood of failure. (From a technical standpoint, one thing I find interesting is the presumption that approach and landing are the implicitly apropos time for such an attack. In fact, takeoff would be the more dangerous moment.)

Oh, and this bit of wisdom, of which I couldn’t agree more:

(I’ve said it before and will say it again: Every American owes it to himself to rent a copy of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film “Brazil,” with its depiction of a cracked totalitarian state brought to hilarious madness in the name of security and control.)