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Laser Painting Could Lead to 25-Year Prison Term 1615

Posted by timothy
from the too-bright-therefore-not-so-bright dept.
lowy writes "According to this USA Today article, a New Jersey man was charged under federal anti-terrorism laws with shining a laser beam at a jet flying over his home. The Feds arrested him after he flashed a police helicopter searching for the source of the beam. He now faces up to 25 years in prison under Patriot Act charges." It seems to be happening around the country, as our earlier post makes clear.
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Laser Painting Could Lead to 25-Year Prison Term

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  • RTFM (Score:4, Informative)

    by fembots (753724) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:05PM (#11267194) Homepage
    here [usatoday.com]
  • Re:ummm.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by dmauro (742353) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:06PM (#11267209)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:07PM (#11267215)
    USA Today Story [usatoday.com]
  • by thegrommit (13025) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:07PM (#11267223)
    The slashdot story is missing the link [usatoday.com]. No comment about the editor who posted it.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Informative)

    by trentblase (717954) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:13PM (#11267347)
    Well, this was a $100 laser... not exactly your average keychain laserpointer. Also, the plane was on approach.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rayde (738949) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:17PM (#11267419) Homepage
    people can use laser pointers such as these [apinex.com] for use in astronomy.

    another site [skypointer.net] says:

    Red laser pointers have grown cheap and ubiquitous, but unfortunately, they are not very effective as sky pointers. In contrast, green laser pointers are very effective because of the eye's greater sensitivity to the 532 nanometer green light. Under dark sky conditions, the beam from a 5 milliwatt green laser pointer creates a dramatic impression, and the beam apparently extends for more than a kilometer. Any bright light source, ranging from light pollution induced sky glow to a crescent moon, will reduce the apparent brightness of the SkyPointer(TM) although the beam will usually remain visible. The light pollution acts in such a way that people closer to you will still see the beam, whereas those further away may have difficulty.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Informative)

    by sgant (178166) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:18PM (#11267435) Homepage Journal
    Very easy...using a green laser pointer, where you can actually see the beam, it's very easy to point out stars and planets etc etc. It's used as a pointing device out of doors.

    They work quite well too so there's no "it's that star...no no, that one next to the bright on there...no, down further....see it?" With the pointer you just follow the beam upwards. A green lasers beam is quite visible.
  • Salon published a letter to the editor [salon.com] today regarding their prior story about the potential for lasers being used to blind pilots. [salon.com] In the letter the physicist argues that to use a laser properly for this task would require expensive and large equipment, at least two men, and good site selection. Basically, much cheaper and deadlier weapons are available to the motivated terrorist than lasers. The article and letter in reply are worth a read... --M
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jtheletter (686279) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:22PM (#11267521)
    Besides, there weren't any complaints about the pilots being blinded by the lasers but rather, consern that the laser could represent someone aiming at the plain with a gun.

    I know the /. article did not provide a link to the actual article, but you're making some rather strong incorrect statements. I did RTFA and (A) the laser light entered the cockpit and temporarily blinded both the pilot and the co-pilot. Apparently either the angle of laser relative to the cockpit was such that it went in, or else there was some unlucky refraction/reflection. (B) There was no concern that this represented someone pointing a gun at the plane, there was concern that terrorists were trying to blind pilots to cause them to crash. Although the investigators did state that they do not believe the actions of the suspect in this case to be terrorist.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:2, Informative)

    by iocat (572367) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:25PM (#11267589) Homepage Journal
    US Citizens can't be declared either enemy, or illegal combatants. Thanks, court system!
  • by King Louie (211282) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:29PM (#11267674)
    They may be charging this guy under the Patriot Act, but it has been a federal offense to interfere with the safe operation of an aricraft for many years. I was a Marine Corps helicopter pilot for 11 years, and back in the mid 90s we had someone flashing our aircraft at night with one of those ultra-bright (million candle power or so) flashlights. After several near-crashes, we finally pinpointed his house, and that night he got a visit from his friendly neighborhood FBI agent.

    So please, stop acting as if every enforcement of a provision of the Patriot Act is some new depradation by the current administration. There may be some provisions of that act that should be revisited, but that doesn't make the entire thing some vast conspiracy to revoke our civil liberties.
  • by StarsAreAlsoFire (738726) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:30PM (#11267686)
    He had a 100 dollar Fiber testing laser.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:38PM (#11267821)
    Yes, but for 25 years and half a million dollars?

    We put away rapists and murders for less on a routine basis.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:41PM (#11267865)
    And pointed it at the cockpit of an airliner, then at a police helicopter. A Delta pilot suffered an eye injury from just this thing back in September near Salt Lake City.

    http://www.kpvi.com/index.cfm?page=nbcheadlines. cf m&ID=22743
  • The guy is moron... (Score:2, Informative)

    by jzarling (600712) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:44PM (#11267908)
    There are just certain things you should have the common sense not to do.
    And directing a laser pointer into the eyes, or in this case cockpit of a plane trying to land is one of them.
    Landing my Piper at night is tense enough, your flying off instruments, that are lit up about like your cars gauges. The runway's landing lights give you an idea of distance but little else.
  • by Jtheletter (686279) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:47PM (#11267960)
    First off, I did RTFA, and for those that didn't here's why a long prison sentence is warranted, whether it whould be for 25 years I will get to.

    The man who was arrested was caught because he shined the same green laser into the cockpit of a helicopter that was surveying the area to discover the origin of the laser that temporarily blinded the pilots of the airliner. They were able to find his location because of this, and incidentally he blamed the helicopter lasing on his daughter. So here we have not just poor judgement or a one-time prank, but a guy who was shining a very bright laser (according to article it was used to test fiber optic cables) at pretty much anything that flew overhead. If he had just done it once he likely would have never been caught and it could be written off as poor judgement.

    Because of this I think his sentence should be more than just a slap on the wrist, definitely some heavy fines, maybe a few years jail time depending on what motives they discover for his actions. However, if it turns out he was just a jerk, or an idiot, or whatever and wasn't trying to bring down aircraft, then the maximum 25 year sentence is definitely too long. What I fear is that to make an example of him and to stop others who seem to think lasing planes is a fun idea (reports from multiple other airports of similar events) is that the government will hit him with the max or near max penalty.

    I have to wonder, making examples of criminals or not, how some judges can justify these extreme jail sentences? The criminal learns his lesson for sure, but is effectively never given the chance to apply that lesson. In 25 years the man will be so old as to almost be ready for social security, and with a criminal record he'll be lucky if greeter at Walmart is even available to him. What the system has done now is taken an otherwise productive (granted rather stupid for his actions) member of society, burned a ton of taxpayer $$ on him for 25 years, then released him to be a further drain on the system.

    At what point will someone - the american people, congress, other judges - say enough is enough and start setting limits on jail sentences to times that make sense? If this guy is guilty of nothing more than the airline equivalent of chucking rocks over the freeway as a dumb prank then I'm pretty sure 5 to 10 years in the fed pen will be quite enough to ensure he doesn't shine a laser anywhere again. Even 5 years is a sizable chunk of someone's life, and prison is no fun place to spend it, plus getting one's life back on track after such a sentence will be hard enough. It's time to stop this "War on X" mentality that the justice system has taken and give non-violent offenders a chance to learn from their actions and apply those lessons in their lifetime instead of overcrowding prisons and sucking up taxpayer dollars.

    Anyway, this rant is mostly concerned with if this guy turns out to be just a beavis/butthead type who got his hands on a laser and gets the 25 yrs. If he gets a more appropriate sentence length, or if his actions were in fact malicious then I guess this rant is moot. But there seems to be a trend in our courts to just throw people away forever, which in the end really doesn't teach a very long lesson since those people never get out to tell others to not follow their example.

  • by AzrealAO (520019) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:50PM (#11268031)
    How do pilots manage to see the runway during approach if the windows are on the top, and the runway is under them?

    The plane was only at about 3,000 feet on approach for landing. I'm guessing that the pilot just MIGHT have been looking towards the ground.

    But maybe that's just me.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheGavster (774657) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:53PM (#11268080) Homepage
    Actually, the charge was Reckless Disregard for Human Life. Its just that Terrorism and Patriot Act make for wicked headlines.
  • by the_mushroom_king (708305) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:58PM (#11268163)
    Never attribute to complicated malice what can be explained by simple stupidity. -- TMK
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:59PM (#11268177)
    the necessity to spread the beam at least across the range of the cockpit windows (which would dilute the beam's power),

    Nonsense. You only need to sweep the beam across the cockpit enough to catch the flight crew's eyes. To do this, set the laser on a vibrating mount. Or hold it with your hand... the effect is almost the same.

    the necessity for line of sight to the eyes of the pilots (thus requiring special site selection).

    Line of sight is not hard. You can see a very wide area from the cockpit, by design. That's what the huge windows are for.

    On the various approaches to the airport, the planes will sweep out a wide area.
  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:00PM (#11268186) Journal
    You seem to be under the impression that laser light, like most energy, decreases in intensity with the square of the distance.

    Laser light, because it's coherent, doesn't do that. It's biggest loss of energy is to the medium that it must pass through , which in this case is air and would result in neglible loss of energy before reaching the target. There is an additional loss of energy due to lack of perfect coherence in the laser light generated, but that is insignifant compared to the total power output of the laser.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Informative)

    by danheskett (178529) <danheskett@NOSPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:08PM (#11268325)
    I've done a fair amount of research on the topic, but I can't find a comprehensive list of treaties the US is bound to. There may be some that I've missed, but generally:

    The US is being somewhat more than accomodating in the fact that during a time of war or even armed conflict spys, saboters, un-uniformed soliders and mercanaries who are captured are subject to summary execution without hearing, redress, trial, evidence or even a chance to speak. The famous Vietnam era video footage of a man being executed at point blank range with a shot to the head demonstrates something: the prisoner was an illegal spy. His execution was perfectly legal under all applicable international law.

    Unless you have something or some document I can't find, the US can view any captured in a war zone as either (1) a mercenary if they are from a foreign land, (2) a spy, or (3) an un-uniformed solider and execute them on the spot in compliance with international law.

    I am not arguing for the sake of argument and if you have some *first* hand reference material, please let me know so I can update my notes. There is a lot of garbage floating around about international law this and international law that. But not so much in terms of clear concise information.
  • Re:Painting? (Score:2, Informative)

    by IdntUnknwn (700129) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:11PM (#11268373)
    Another context where you may hear painting is in sniping. You paint a target with a laser beam for better accuracy.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Informative)

    by danheskett (178529) <danheskett@NOSPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:17PM (#11268463)
    The Constitution is a binding agreement between the states who ratified it, their citizens and decendants, and those who volunteer to become a citizen of the US and are therefore bound to it by oath.

    All people born into the terrority of the US are natural born US citizens, and are protected by all of our laws and the Constitution. You may renounce your citizenship at anytime by going to the US embassy, State department, or foreign consulate and swearing in writing an oath of renunication (followed by exiting US soil). Unless you do this, you are not a citizen of the United States and you therefore do not have the responsibilities or rights of US citizen.

    People born in Zaire or France or China are not descended from the ratifiers, nor have they ratified it, nor are they bound by it. If the United States Congress voted by majority to permit it and a majority of citizens of any foreign province, terrority or land voted by majority to ratify it, the US Constitution would apply fully to all of its citizens.

    There's your answer.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:18PM (#11268475)
    Actually, they are granted rights by various international convents which the US has signed.The US just happens to be in blatant violation.

    Which agreements? 'The' Geneva Convention (actually, do you know which one refers to the treatment of prisoners? Go read them!!!). Once you do, you'll find out the US is in compliance, and actually acts no differently than how the French government is handling illegal combatants right now in the Ivory Coast. The French handle illegal combatants no differently than the US [nationbynation.com] when faced with an enemy that refuses to differentiate itself from civilians.

    Please understand there is a reason France, Germany, the US and others do this. When combatants disguise themselves as normal civilians, they cause civilian deaths. Militaries must begin shooting civilians because nothing identifies the enemy. Innocent people are lost. Civilized nations absolutely must use punitive means to make practice have a consequence. Slashdotters that oppose the treatment of these combatants are actually advocating the death of innocent civilians! Think about the consequences of your words, read the actual treaties before you profess to be an expert on it, and open your eyes to how nearly all western nations behave consistently on this issue. As a Bangolore friend of mine used to say:
    "One does not teach his grandfather how to f*ck!"
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:2, Informative)

    by aborchers (471342) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:19PM (#11268494) Homepage Journal
    Can someone please explain to me how to use a laser pointer to look at stars?


    It's not so much for looking at the stars, but for sharing the experience of looking at the stars. Have you ever tried to point out a specific star (other than the brightest, most obvious ones) to someone else? It usually goes something like this:

    Up there, see that one that's kind of reddish? Now go a little left and up? Got it? Now the one directly above that about twice as far away as the second was from the first? OK? Go just to the right of that about as far as the width of the full moon. That's the one...

    Needless to say, it's frequently very hard to get two people, especially if one of them is inexperienced with observing the night sky, looking at the same point on the celestial sphere.

    Now, the scenario with a green laser:

    That one, right there. [points laser directly at the object of interest]

    ---

    When this story started coming up, I was concerned because members of my astronomy club routinely use lasers for this purpose, and I for one had never considered we might inadvertantly blind a pilot!

    I have no idea if this guy is on the level or not. Just trying to answer your question...

  • by Warskull (846730) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:24PM (#11268575)
    What he did was stupid, yes. However does that warrant prosecuting him so severely? First of all when the Patriot Act was created it was deemed as an attack on our civil liberties. However they promised it wouldn't be used against our own people (a promise I personally didn't believe and has been broken time and time again.) On top of this there is a legal concept known as culpable mental states. There are four culpable mental states, intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, negligently. Prosecution under the correct mental state is important. Intentionally would be if he aimed the laser pointer with the intention of blinding the pilots and causing some sort of accident to occur. In this case a harsh penalty probably should be applied. However in this even in this case application of the Patriot Act would not be appropriate. Knowingly means he realized the possibility of blinding the pilots, but did not have the goal of blinding the pilots and causing an accident. This would invoke a lesser penalty than intentionally attempting to blind the pilots. Recklessly would be around the realm of a stupid prank for this and probably the most realistic scenario. Some people think it is funny to point at things with laser pointers. He would be pointing at the plane for his own amusement (or whatever reason) with no thought as to the possible consequences. This again has a less harsh punishment that the previous two. Finally, negligently would be in the realm of somehow accidentally blinding the pilot through a dumb oversight. It is pretty far off in this case, but something like a laser light show not taking into account a nearby airport would fall into this realm. Negligently pointing a laser at an airplane is pretty difficult. However negligence carries the most lenient penalty. This is similar to murder. There are different penalties for if you plan the murder in advance, shoot the victim in a fit or rage, threaten them with a gun that accidentally goes off, or are hunting and a stray bullet kills someone. This seems like a blatent case of overprosecution (especially the use of the Patriot Act) and is against what a lot of our justice system is meant for. No one thinks they have a right to shine lasers at planes. However many people like to think we still have the right to a fair trial in this country. Imagine you were driving and ran a red light (through either inattention or being in a hurry( when it changed at the last minute. You cause someone else to slam on their break and the police pull you over. However instead of giving you a traffic ticket and maybe telling you that you were doing something stupid they charge you with premeditated, attempted murder. In addition they prosecute you as a terrorist. Sadly, this is what this event is akin to. This is what the problem is. I think everyone can agree that he was a dumbass and probably should be prosecuted under the reckless mental state.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lord Kano (13027) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:26PM (#11268601) Homepage Journal
    What is the danger of crashing a plane from a laser underneath it?

    If you're directly underneath, there isn't much danger. He was not directly underneath the plane. He was able to paint the cockpit window with his laser. The diffusion of light on that window temporarily blinded the captain and copilot.

    Wouldn't it require hitting the pilot and the co-pilot in the eye while simulteaneously something goes wrong on the plane that the on board computer can't fix?

    No.

    Pilots don't do particularly much now adays from what I understand.

    They still land the plane, which is what they were doing when this idiot blinded them. They were at approx. 3000 feet as the descended for landing. The autopilot doesn't land the planes. People do.

    LK
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Informative)

    by sangreal66 (740295) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:28PM (#11268629)
    How is this insightful?

    For starters, I fail to see how charging someone under a specific provision of a federal law is evidence that ANYTHING can be labeled as terrorism. Note: this case is not being labeled as terrorism. Also, please point out the due process being skipped, and the Constitutional protections being violated.

    Further, you state that the PATRIOT act shouldn't be used, instead deferring to existing laws. Well, the PATRIOT act is an existing law, so that doesn't make sense. You state that he should instead be charged with "interfering with an aircrew." Did you RTFA? "He was charged with interfering with a flight crew under the USA Patriot Act."

    As further evidence that the PATRIOT act does not mean that "ANYTHING the powers-that-be don't like" is illegal, I would like to point out the fact that the man in question was not charged in the targetting of the helicopter specifically because there is no provision in the act to allow for this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:30PM (#11268652)
    Light, even "laser" light diffuses over distance in an atmosphere. It is my decided opinion that the use of a laser as astronomical aid by even amateur operators takes precedent over the minuscule and highly over inflated threat it, when from the ground several thousand feet away it intersects the window of the cockpit and would appear as a brighter area at the most. Now, if shined from within the body of the place into the cockpit and reflected into the eyes of a pilot it is a genuine danger and does belong on the list of items to be refused cabin transit on an airplane.
  • by mindstrm (20013) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:35PM (#11268746)
    I'm fairly sure it does. I know there are cases where a laser CAN be a true beam, but they are very specific.

    Your laser pointer is just run through a columnating lense.. it is not a perfect beam, and spreads out linearly.

    The decrease in energy density is because it's spreading out over a wider and wider area. The inverse square law still applies, unless I"m mistaken, and the beam doesn't get wider and wider, and in fact stays the same.

  • by nonetheless (600533) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:42PM (#11268851)
    Other [washingtontimes.com] articles [nydailynews.com] have described the plane as flying at 3,000 feet. These articles also describe the laser as a "high-powered ... commercial grade laser used for checking fiber optic lines," not the sort you'd typically find attached to a keychain. I haven't used a laser like that before, but I suppose I wouldn't be surprised if it traveled a mile and was still bright.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:47PM (#11268916) Homepage
    A typical laser will have a beam spread of 1.5 mRad.
    As a rule of thumb this is about 1.5 millimeters spread to each meter
    traveled. Hence at 100 meters the beam will be about 150mm wide which is
    just under 6 inches in diameter. Using this formula you can calculate your
    beam diameter at different distances.

    Oh and semiconductor lasers have a much larger beam spread.

    now, if at 100 meters if a laser can damage your eyesight 200 meters it will not. because the amount of laser light entering your eye is dropping extremely fast as the beam spreads further.

    will you be "dazzled" by the bright light you see at the opening of the laser? yes, it will make it difficult for you to see who is standing behind that laser, epically if the contrast is high, I.E. completely dark room with little lighting on t he subject and a laser pointed at you. it will certainly not affect your vision at other angles.

    I strongly suggest you learn about lasers, they are pretty darn fascinating, you seem to only know a very little about them but try to pass yourself off as an expert.
  • Stupid (Score:2, Informative)

    by eebly (7752) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:11PM (#11269265)
    The whole 'lasers as weapons against planes' hysteria has to be one of the stupidest in memory. It just doesn't work. Salon.com [salon.com]'s Patrick Smith, author of Ask the Pilot [salon.com] has written about this. [salon.com] Today an (almost) PhD. Physicist wrote in [salon.com] to support Mr. Smith. Text below for those of you who don't want to view the ad.

    --- Jan. 5, 2005 |

    I'm a few months away from receiving my Ph.D. in physics from a highly respected physics department. A good portion of my work has involved using various types of lasers.

    To understand the improbability of a laser attack, consider the technical requirements involved. A weak laser beam can indeed blind a person. However, hitting a small target like an eye is very difficult over long distances. In order to have a high probability of success the terrorists would need to spread out the laser beam to fill the cockpit window. That isn't so difficult, but when you spread out a beam of light it becomes weaker, so you need a more powerful laser to compensate. Terrorists would need a large laser with a portable power supply and cooling system. Such systems are available, but they are bulky and expensive.

    Next, temporary blindness is certainly dangerous. However, as Patrick Smith pointed out, blinding a pilot for a few seconds is not necessarily enough to bring down a plane. To bring down a plane the terrorists would have to inflict an injury that pilots can't recover from quickly. That requires either more power or a sustained exposure.

    Sustained exposure requires the ability to track a plane. Tracking a moving target is certainly possible, but it would require skilled engineers to develop a system as well as money for parts. To reduce the necessary skill and expense, they would want to illuminate the plane from a point along the flight path. They would also want to do it from a high point that has a line of sight to the cockpit during takeoff or landing. However, takeoff and landing paths are generally chosen for a lack of tall buildings and large hills.

    The location requirement is by no means an impossible resource constraint, but it does add to the difficulty of the task. It is interesting that the alleged attacks are happening around the country. Each site would need to be carefully selected, to ensure a good line of sight as well as easy access for bulky equipment and little scrutiny from law enforcement or other nosy observers.

    Realistically, the complete weapon system would cost a hundred thousand dollars, require at least two people to operate, and would require considerable time to setup. Not to mention considerable time to dismantle before fleeing. (Unless they want to leave behind expensive equipment that authorities can trace.) And all of this would have to be done from one of the few hills or tall buildings in the flight path.

    These are not impossible hurdles for a terrorist group, but most terrorist attacks against America in the past 10 years have involved fertilizer bombs, other improvised explosives, and boxcutter knives. If terrorist groups have money, technological savvy, and a network of operatives to scope out prime sites near airports around the United States, why not do something simple like make conventional explosives and plant them in public places?

    Finally, the fact that the alleged incidents have involved visible light makes me even more convinced that these are not terrorist attacks. Lasers that emit visible light would be a poor choice for a weapon system. First of all, pilots would notice that the cockpit was being illuminated and they could cover or avert their eyes while waiting for the illumination to pass. Second, a powerful laser beam passing through the sky will scatter from dust and water droplets in the air, letting l
  • by B1ackDragon (543470) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:11PM (#11269271)
    It is a shame that our "corrections system" is more about vengeance and politics, isn't it?

    Here's a nice article: http://www.reason.com/sullum/042304.shtml [reason.com] entitled "Pill Sham - A man seeking pain relief gets 25 years for drug trafficking."
  • by AnotherBlackHat (265897) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:13PM (#11269300) Homepage

    A typical laser will have a beam spread of 1.5 mRad.
    As a rule of thumb this is about 1.5 millimeters spread to each meter


    Laser light can be focused into a nearly parallel beam http://www.eskimo.com/~billb/miscon/miscon4.html [eskimo.com]
    But it can't be done perfectly (wave nature of light prevents perfection) and it's rarely done well.

    Still, 1.5 mRad sounds high to me.
    For a high quality optical communication laser, it would be more like 0.0015 mRad.

    Grabbing my pocket laser pointer, and a ruler, I can measure a spot of about 3mm at a distance of 1 meter, and 5 mm at a distance of about 15 meters.
    Granted I could easily be off by 2mm, that's still no where near 20mm.

    Measuring laser 'dot' size is a simple experiment that I urge anyone who thinks lasers don't spread to try.

    -- should you believe authority without question.
  • by ajs (35943) <ajs@noSPam.ajs.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:23PM (#11269434) Homepage Journal
    If you truly believe that you have some sort of God-given/Constitutionally-mandated right to shine a high-powered laser into the cockpit of a 747, then you truly need a reality check.

    Well, I truly believe that that's not the true reason that this was truly in the YRO section. Does that count? ;-)

    Seriously, read the article. Among other things, it states:
    "We need to send a clear message to the public that there is no harmless mischief when it comes to airplanes," said Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
    This is the kind of reaction that people feared in September and moreso in October of 2001 as it became clear that the US government would spare no time in taking advantage of the bombing of the WTC and pentagon in order to clamp down on the freedom of its citizens.

    So, let's tick off the concerns:
    • This is a crime, and one which should be considered serious. It is not a crime which compares to the sort for which people spend 25 years in prison. This is a simple matter of applying the wrong laws to the criminal, and violates the criminal's rights under the 8th amendment, IMHO. This is backed up on FindLaw [findlaw.com] where the annotation suggests:
      English history which led to the inclusion of a predecessor provision in the Bill of Rights of 1689 indicates additional concern with arbitrary and disproportionate punishments.
      IANAL, but the idea of trying to hold a man to an anti-terrorism law with a 25 year prison-term for painting an airplane with a laser seems to me to be a clear-cut example of disproportionate, which is sad because it gives this guy (who deserves at LEAST a serious fine, if not some amount of prison time), a legitimate reason to get off, though possibly only through appeal.
    • The quote from the U.S. attorney above is clearly wrong. There certainly is "harmless mischief when it comes to airplanes", but this isn't it. When you endanger the safety of passengers on an airplane or turn the airplane into a danger to others, that is not harmless mischief. When you don't, then it is harmless by definition. I know, for example, that hobbiest and non-commercial pilots are being brought under increasing restrictions and scrutiny for no particular reason of safety these days (restricting airspace around major cities was an unfortunate, but reasonable precaution, and there it should have stayed).
    • Such an over-reaction serves to muddy an important issue: lasers (especially those that are more powerful than the garden-variety pointers) are not toys, and people who (ab)use them as such should expect to face law enforcement.
    Hope that helps to clear up the position of at least some of those who feel that this is most certainly an issue of "rights", though clearly you are correct in that YRO is more "Your Rights, Discussed Online" rather than "Your Rights Online".
  • Re:Don't be daft (Score:3, Informative)

    by CoolGopher (142933) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:36PM (#11269655)
    Actually, you might not be entirely correct. I think it depends on how heavily trafficed the airport is. With QANTAS here in Australia (with comparatively small airports), almost all descents/landings are manual. It's only in case of severe weather that they activate the auto-landing feature.

    Why? Because in my experience, the pilots do a better job at managing a smooth landing. The two (I think?) automated landings I've experienced have had a very noticable "touch down bump". I would liken the experience to being in a car with someone planting their foot on the brake in a car with ABS - it gets the job done quite safely, but it's not a smooth ride.
  • No it can't (Score:3, Informative)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@keirstea d . o rg> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:09PM (#11270022) Homepage
    The worst your average consumer-level laser pointer can do is cause "flash blindness". That is, if you point the thing *directly* into your eye, at a closer distance, you could be blinded in that eye for ~10 minutes.

    They aren't high powered enough to permanatly blind you. However, obviously, they are still dangerous to people driving vehicles and aircraft!
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Informative)

    by danheskett (178529) <danheskett@NOSPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:15PM (#11270092)
    as many pieces of the Act have already been found
    That's unsubstantiated. Show it. Which sections?

    have not looked deeply into the Patriot Act as what I have read scares the living hell out of me
    I've read the entire bill.

    I have felt for a long time that our (US) government is only here for it's benefit and the US people are being allowed to reside here to support it.
    That may be true, but the patriot act has nothing to do with that.

    All the Patriot Act has done that I can see it allowed the US Government to go after it's own citizens for not thinking/acting the way they are expected to.
    You should read the bill before you go MAKING THINGS UP.

    For one thing, its main purpose was to allow various agencies the legal right to share information. If the CIA knew for a fact that an attack on the US was going to happen before the PATRIOT ACT it would have been *ILLEGAL* for them to tell the FBI, the White House, etc. That's insanity!

    As for the laser incident, the guy is guilty of nothing more than doing something stupid.
    Stupid isn't a crime. Interfering with a flight crew is - by means of stupidty or not.

    I have seen people do things that could have done more harm than this and carry on their merry way.
    So? Does that justify this bad behaviour?

    But then again, the US government could probably find something illegal with that and the next thing you know you with have the FBI, CIA, ATF and any other department with a gun pounding down your door.
    Ahh... a conspiracy nut. Should have known. The CIA? Get real.
  • Re:Its impossible (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mr. No Skills (591753) <lskywalkerNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:21PM (#11270144) Journal
    While it is definitely possible to do it to a helicopter, but has anybody realized that it would be nigh near IMPOSSIBLE to shine a laser pointer into the cockpit of an airliner, particularly into the eyes of the pilot?

    Didn't this same topic get beat into the ground [slashdot.org] just 6 days ago?

    Do you really think there is no place on the ground to shine something into the eyes of a pilot? Do you really think pilots only look at the sky and there's no way for them to see the ground? Haven't you even seen a movie, TV show, or sat in a plane and watched the pilot line up on the runway? There's a reason runways have lines and lights all around them -- THE PILOTS ARE LOOKING AT THEM!

    Yes, a pilot doesn't look straight down. But if you were positioned past the end of a runway you could look right into the pilots eyes as he landed.

    Let's not let our hatred of authority blind us of basic understanding of science. We're supposed to be nerds, for cryin' out loud, not schoolkids whipped into a frenzy over the latest conspiracy theories. And this is modded "insightful", no less...

  • by mindstrm (20013) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:21PM (#11270145)
    Laser doesn't mean beam.. it just means the light is all in-phase. We just think of it as a beam, as that's the most common use.

    Take apart a laser pointer, you'll find a columnating lens. Take that out, have the laser diode out in the open, and you'll see the entire room awash in that funky red laser glow, interference patterns and all (indicating coherence). (please don't look directly at it.)

    Some (most?) laser devices generate a highly focused beam naturally. .but it's still a normal beam of light. The inverse-square relationship applies to anything spreading out linearly over distance.. so unless the beam is perfectly parallel, which i'm not sure is even possible, it applies.

    Lasers tend to be single wavelength and coherent, making them easier to accurately focus, without scatter.

    They don't call it a "light pointer" because it's actually in-phase laser light.
  • This is wrong. (Score:3, Informative)

    by rufusdufus (450462) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:35PM (#11270302)
    The aircraft he is charged with disturbing are a helicopter and a cessna citiation. Neither have automatic landing capabilities. Most planes do not.
  • by jsdkl (48221) <rhenry&vistatheater,org> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:59PM (#11270506)
    I went to Google, searched for "laser pointer eye damage" (without the quotes) and went to the first hit: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/iyh/products/laser. html [hc-sc.gc.ca] (Health Canada).

    To quote: "If you look directly into the beam from a laser pointer for more than a minute and a half in a very steady manner, or shine the beam into your eyes with binoculars, you could end up with permanent eye damage."

  • Real Terrorists... (Score:2, Informative)

    by DrKyle (818035) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:13PM (#11270676)
    ...would use an infrared laser and remain undetected. The invisible beam would blind the pilot much easier as they wouldn't "see" a bright light and look away, only feel a burning after the damage had been done. Also a beam that couldn't be seen would be harder to track to the source. This guy was obviously an amateur.
  • Re:Don't be daft (Score:3, Informative)

    by crankyspice (63953) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:31PM (#11270828)
    That's exactly why the pilot of a commercial aircraft rarely if ever flies the approach by hand. Instrument landing systems can only take you so far; the last few hundred feet (or more, depending on the airport) are done manually. Google for "decision height" and "ILS."
  • by uberskyjock (846802) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:38PM (#11270886)
    and this is not an abstract mildly interesting issue of civil rights to me.

    First of all, let me say that all of the above posters who wonder "what the big deal is of a laser hitting the bottom of a plane when the cockpit window is on top" are uninformed. As a pilot on final approach, the only direction I cannot see is directly behind or directly under me, but I continuously scan every other segment of the sky. Especially at night I have to let my eyes pause for a moment on each section in order to discern relative motion, as a quick scan would not allow me to detect the characteristic red/green/white nav lights + strobe of a moving aircraft above the many lights (both stationary of all color, flashing, and more slowly moving ground vehicle) below the aircraft. So a fair amount of our time on final approach is spent gazing downward, since while descending that part of the sky represents the largest risk of collision hazard. This attentive watchfulness is of course an important part of what we do, and if while looking for aircraft below us both pilots are "temporarily blinded" or worse (depending on the type of laser used) we are obviously in a very scary situation.

    Secondly, this idea that pilots fly the approach on autopilot is misinformed. Yes, cruise flight and the initial segment of the approach are usually (but by no means always) performed with the assistance of an autopilot. However, the autopilot is routinely and often given manual commands in a terminal environment to comply with air traffic control instructions all the way up to the very last final intercept of the glideslope. So pilot incapacitation during any descending maneuver before that final segment poses a very real threat to people on the ground below the aircraft's path (a much larger area than the airport proper). Also, with the exception of some large airliners and very few corporate aircraft, most jets do not have autopilots approved for autolandings, so at some point during the last 200 to 1000 feet the pilot will hand fly the plane, adjusting the pitch attitude and simultaneously reducing thrust to make a smooth landing flare. This is not something I want to feel my way through without sight.

    There are many reasons to not use autopilot, some flights are also operational line checks where the pilot in command is being evaluated by a check airman who expects them to hand fly the plane to demonstrate proficiency. I often fly by hand both to keep my skills sharp as well as because it is enjoyable to have the responsiveness of a very powerful jet airplane at my fingers. There is satisfaction in rolling the plane onto a perfectly aligned final approach without the autopilot's assistance.

    As a group, professional pilot's take the safety of our passengers very seriously. We attend recurrent training continuously throughout our careers, and simulate almost every conceivable emergency that it is possible to contend with. However, some emergencies elude constructing nice pat standard operating procedures to deal with. Obviously if an aircraft comes apart in flight then all you can do is follow the arc of the individual parts toward the ground below. Likewise, becoming blind is a situation that we just can't train for.

    Finally, I've also noticed some posts recommending using some sort of film on the windshield that would protect the pilots. This is unlikely to happen soon for several reasons. I would love to hear that such a material exists that is effective over the many frequency ranges that could conceivably be used in a laser. But even if it did exist, each aircraft has a slightly different type of construction and would require a huge amount of research and development. The price would be astronomical. As an example, the windshield of a Learjet is nearly an inch thick, is comprised of multiple layers of various materials (including different types of plastic and acrylic and a layer of gold used to heat the windshield) which have been thoroughly tested for strength, compatibil
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:55PM (#11271054) Homepage
    This case reminds us that one should never talk to any federal law enforcement official without an attorney present. If you do, they can bring "lying to a federal official" charges. (18 U.S.C. 1001), as they've done in this case. This has become a common ploy of Federal law enforcement. If they can't prove anything real, they entrap people by interrogating them, and any change in the story during interrogation means a "lying to a federal official" charge. Then they use this to get a guilty plea on the original charge, so they get credit for a conviction. Or a deportation.

    This is relatively new. Until the 1990s, it was safe to talk to the FBI. But it no longer is.

    So just keep insisting that you want your lawyer present. And you have to be very clear about it. [aele.org] Courts have held that "I think I should talk to a lawyer" is not sufficient to invoke the 6th amendment right to counsel. You have to make an unambiguous statement.

    That's supposed to stop interrogation, but it doesn't always. Eventually, if you keep insisting, they usually give up and let you talk to a lawyer.

  • Re:Patriot? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:23PM (#11271285) Homepage
    Well, sort of. Bin Laden's driver. [cnn.com] )Really) A wannabe terrorist who didn't make the cut for September 11th. [msn.com] (He flunked out of flight school.) A crook from Detroit who got mixed up with some terrorist group. Some guys who went to fight with the Taliban before September 11th.

    We're not talking about al-Queda's A-team here.

  • Re:send it back (Score:3, Informative)

    by NoData (9132) <_NoData_@NoSPAM.yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:48PM (#11272211)
    Way to be an asshole, asshole. Yes, in fact it IS the same power as the ThinkGeek pointer. According the the CNN article [cnn.com], Banach claims he bought the laser pointer in question at BigHa.com, which sells a green laser pointer [bigha.com] of the same 5mW power as that sold by ThinkGeek. [thinkgeek.com] But thanks for the ad hominem anyway. Very classy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 06, 2005 @01:26AM (#11272807)
    You are an idiot. If you've ever worked around lasers, you don't have to point the beam directly into an eye to get damage. There's this thing called scattering, and there is this other thing called reflection. Both are possible in an airplane cockpit.

    Fine. Surely you can account for the in-air attenuation of a 2mW 532 laser at 8000 feet and can say without doubt that the laser power at such a distance would be strong enough to cause out-of-medium scatter.

    What is much more likely is that any small amount of laser that did happen to get past there would've been attenuated and would predominantly refract into the glass pane. Not to mention that the angular reflection of the laser to transmit through the a singluar glass pane would have to be between 1 and 30 degrees, because beyond that point the attenuation caused by the glass would negate most anything that could get beyond that.

    And finally, since your statements in your post betray the fact that you DO NOT work around lasers, and have no idea of how dangerous they are to human eyes, your arguments are bullshit. As for a laser system that can down targets (aircraft and missiles) look at MTHEL, the Army's high energy DF laser in New Mexico. That one HAS downed incoming missiles and can down aircraft.

    Your use of examples shows that you have zero knowledge of the scaling of lasers and the power used. Now, also bear in mind that the MTHEL is currently a one-shot system, as it requires 1 Megawatt of input energy for a 10KW blast. A lot of heat and power to contend with. Not exactly backyard, three-shot equipment.

    Yes, the MTHEL has taken care of aircraft and missles. If I said no lasers had done this, I simply meant to say that the threat of lasers that he possessed is so small it's negatable.

    The MTHEL is a 10KW Neodymium doped laser system. This guy had, at most a 2mW laser pointer, but I'll grant you a 10mW laser.

    Do the math. The power of 100 of his would "equal" 1W, and 10,000 of those would equal the MTHEL capabilities, which would be easily and legitimately a weapon. So, I guess if he fired 1 million of his laser pointers at once, then he'd have a legitimate weapon.

    If I throw a pebble at someone, it's miles of difference from throwing a SUV-sized boulder at someone.

    I know of one person where I work that was blinded by a targeting laser that is used to align another laser. This laser was akin to a HE-Ne laser that you can buy from radio shack for 10 bucks. The guy suffered permanent retinal damage, and this is from a scattered beam that got out of it's containment tube and bounced off a wrench. And the guy wasn't wearing his eye protection, so he's also a dumbass, but his exposure was on the order of a millisecond of scattered laser light.

    And I'm going to go ahead and say that while it was "akin" to a RadioShack He-Ne 1mW system, it was akin only in type, but was orders more powerful, which can definitely have eyesafety problems.

    FWIW, since you asked, I *do* work with lasers on a daily basis as part of a Free-Space Optics communications system, operating at 785, 808 and 850 nm, through a pulsed wave 100mW (on our 3R product; ~67mW on our 1M product) infrared laser system.
  • by Restil (31903) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @03:17AM (#11273293) Homepage
    So the implied logic is that if someone is agitated they should choose which crime they commit as a result of it based upon the most likely sentence, rather than not comitting any criminal activity at all?

    And of course, there's no evidence the guy in the story was agitated anyway.

    AND.... he hasn't received 25 years, that's only the maximum sentence, and he's likely to only get a small fraction of that, if he gets any jail time at all. In fact, he'll probably get more time from an obstruction of justice charge for lying to investigators than he'll get from anything else.

    -Restil

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