Have you ever played with a laser beam and thought how cool it is? Have you tried pointing the laser towards a direction just to see how far it gets? Also, have you tried to point at a bird or a plane or even a helicopter to see if it affects the pilot?
If you have, boy oh boy you're in big trouble! It is illegal to point a laser beam at an aircraft or a helicopter. The Federal Aviation Administration will come after you and slap you with a fine of USD 11,000. But why? What harm can a mere laser beam do?
For starters, there has been no reports of planes or helicopters that crashed till date due to laser attacks. But what it is capable of is temporarily blinding the pilot. This could result in a crash or leave the pilot with temporary blindness.
Nowadays, military grade lasers are available on the internet for cheap. These lasers could damage the eyes permanently or cause permanent blindness. The last thing a plane needs is to be piloted by someone who has been blinded by laser.
So if you're wondering how many such incidences occur, in 2011 alone, over 1000 laser shining incidents took place. Back in 2010, the FAA logged 2836 cases.
One very notable incident is when a Virgin Atlantic flight had to return Heathrow airport after taking off, due to a laser attack. All the passengers aboard the flight had been offered overnight accommodation since the plane could not make its trans Atlantic flight.
Another incident is when a British Airways flight pilot was left with severe eye damage after a military grade laser was pointed into the cockpit. The incident took place while the plane was landing in the UK and is also considered the most serious laser attack in the UK.
The attack was so severe that the pilot had to be treated in a hospital in the UK.
What really happens is that when a laser beam is pointed inside the cockpit, it bounces around the deck and makes pilots lose concentration, sometimes leaving them disoriented. That is very dangerous.
So what have the police done to stop such offenders? They have come up with hand-held Laser Event Recorder to locate pointers. It records wavelength to match beam to pointer, like matching a bullet to a gun.
They then use GPS and thermal imaging cameras to detect the person and police patrol on the ground nab the culprit.
The cops will be able to nab the suspect even if he has tried to throw away the laser. The thermal imaging cameras will pick up heat signals even if the laser has been disposed into nearby bushes.
The Civil Aviation Authorities will simply take it as an offence even if the laser has been pointed at an aircraft negligently. The offender will be caught and could face a jail term of upto five years.