Laser Tag

- Elias "Who Flias" Zwillenberg, JAC Member


In reply to JAC member reports of laser activity during night flights...

There’s just something wonderful about laser pointers. They’re such an effective conduit for the imagination. Just pick one up and a grown man is transformed into the days of his youth when he was playing laser tag or making whooshing sounds and swinging a paper towel roll like a fifty cent Jedi knight. And what combines these two forms of silliness most effectively? Pew-pewing at airplanes. JAC member Nachshon Kurtz got the Chewy vs Tie Fighter treatment twice, most recently at 9:45pm on May twentieth while flying over lakewood. While his question, “Has anyone else had this,” went mostly unanswered, the stats don’t lie: There have been between 6,100 and 7,300 laser incidents reported to the FAA in 4 out of the last 5 years. 2018 only had 5,600. That’s a lot of aircraft interiors turned temporarily blindingly green or purple.


7,300 in a year is almost one an hour. I’m confident to predict that if you fly long enough, you will get lased. But I could be biased, it’s happened to me as well. Before this seems like doom and gloom it’s pretty noteworthy to report that both Nachshon and myself were uninjured and unharmed and the safety of our flights were not unduly compromised. Still, lasers present a specific set of dangerous circumstances that can occur, so it is highly encouraged to have a procedure to follow when you are lased. Here’s the bullet points that everyone already agrees on:


  • First and foremost, protect your eyes: Do not look at the laser’s reflection or point of direct illumination on the windshield or canopy. Look away.

  • Report the incident to your current ATC contact. Departure or Approach almost certainly, but any FSS would accept your report as well.

  • When on the ground visit, https://www.faa.gov/aircraft/safety/report/laserinfo/ to obtain the proper form to fill out - these are requested, not 100% necessary, but if we are going to combat lasing we do need to be proactive.


To these points I will add:


  • You can make it harder to be targeted by turning off your exterior lights and then turning off course for a moment, then back on course. Obviously if you’re operating IFR that will be a bit harder to accomplish but even under VFR you should get flight following and inform ATC of your plan before attempting it.

  • The hardest time for someone on the ground to lase your interior is, mercifully, on takeoff. The easiest, grimly, is of course on landing. This is why we report over the air. If you hear someone report being lased on final, you remember that report. You remember that airport and you follow up before you land there.


To those of you who are fortunate enough to never have been lased I say to you what a wisened aviator said to me when I told him I never had an emergency: Yet. He was right then, I expect I am now. All the good advice I could give is already thoroughly covered by AOPA, the EAA and the FAA, so I leave you with this one resounding moral: Look away from the dots.