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The FBI Would Like Everyone To Stop Shooting Lasers at Airplanes

Shooting a laser at an airplane could get you 20 years in prison

Around this time last year, laser manufacturer Wicked Lasers released what they termed the “most powerful handheld laser that is legally possible to own.” As GizMag pointed out, the laser is so strong that the manufacturer’s website “warns users not to point it at aircraft or satellites.”

That laser, along with subsequent products, fueled a discussion around laser safety—a discussion that the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined with a recent blog post reminding us that shooting lasers at airplanes can potentially blind the pilots and, hence, is probably not a very good idea.

The Flying Engineer describes why shooting a laser at those buzzing overhead may be even more dangerous than you’d imagine:

What appears as a pencil beam for the prankster is actually a huge green light for the pilot at a distance of around 5 kilometers (2.7NM) on approach….the light diffuses when it strikes the windshield, having the effect of illuminating the flight deck, and distracting the flight crew.

Secondly, the intensity of the beam can either temporarily or permanently blind the pilot, especially on approach at night. If the cockpit floods with the green light and the pilot’s eye receives scattered light, vision will be temporarily affected, with the immediate consequence of losing sight of the runway and approach lights….In case the laser beam directly hits the eyes of the pilot, the intensity can blind him or her for life, with immediate and long term consequences.

The FBI says:

The number of laser attacks in the U.S. is on the rise. Incidents are projected to reach 3,700 this year—compared to just 283 in 2005. That’s a rise of more than 1,100 percent. And that doesn’t include the thousands of attacks that go unreported every year.

The FBI says that if you’re caught pointing a laser at an aircraft, you could face up to 5 years and prison and an $11,000 fine. If your laser antics actually afflict the aircraft’s operation, you could do up to 20 years in jail.

H/t to Ars Technica

More from Smithsonian.com:
The Navy’s Future Is Filled With Laser Guns
How LOLCats and Laser Pointers Are Bad for Our Pets
The Camera That Can See Around Walls

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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