North American Aircraft Are Under Attack By High-Powered Lasers

By Sean Osborne, Associate Director, Military Affairs Specialist

3 January 2005: Last Monday a high-powered laser weapon was intentionally directed into the cockpit of a Continental Airlines flight for several seconds while approaching the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The aircraft was still at an altitude of 8,500 feet. The laser was determined to have been fired from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.

The disturbing thing about this attack is that it is not an isolated incident, but rather it is a new terrorist tactic, the tactical goal of which is to bring down commercial aircraft by literally blinding the pilots. The FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security recently issued an official memo warning of exactly this intent. The memo read in part:

“Although lasers are not proven methods of attack like improvised explosive devices and hijackings, terrorist groups overseas have expressed interest in using these devices against human sight. In certain circumstances, if laser weapons adversely affect the eyesight of both pilot and co-pilot during a non-instrument approach, there is a risk of airliner crash.”

Well, I am here to tell you that these terrorists are not entirely “overseas,” they are right here in the USA and they can strike at any commercial airport in the United States and Canada. Back in 1997 the first reported incident occurred when a US Navy officer received eye injuries as the Royal Canadian helicopter he was in was fired on by a laser from a Russian trawler (i.e.: spy ship) in the Puget Sound of Washington State. More recently in April 2004 two Royal Canadian helicopter pilots were illuminated by a laser also fired from a Russian trawler. And that’s just for starters. According to Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, on September 28, 2004 a Delta Airlines commercial flight had one of its pilots suffering from acute eye injury when a laser targeted the cockpit as the plane approached the Salt Lake City airport in Utah.

According to the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System there are records of this kind of attack for the last two years against commercial flights within the continental United States as aircraft approached or departed the international airports of Honolulu, Las Vegas, Miami, New York City, Los Angeles and Phoenix. In one such incident at LAX both the pilot and the co-pilot of a 737 on departure were hit by a 5 to 10 second laser blast and suffered burns to their eyes and broken blood vessels. An aircraft at Phoenix had one crewman blinded for an hour and a half after being hit by a laser strike.

Finally, according to the United States National Air Intelligence Center over 50 such incidents of aircraft operating in North American skies have been subjected to powerful laser attacks within the past year or two. North American aircraft and pilots are under attack. Now you know the truth. If you’re a frequent flyer, now you know why more and more pilots are wearing mirrored sunglasses.