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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What does a laser pointer do to pilots?

I've been hit with a laser from the ground a few times. The first time it happened we were going from Washington-Dulles to Fayetteville, North Carolina. We were heading south and just northwest of the Richmond, Virginia airport at around 12,000 feet.

Sitting back in my seat, I saw some bright green light scattering around bottom of the windscreen. Since there's an amusement park (King's Dominion) not too far away, I sat up and looked out the cockpit window thinking it was a fireworks display. To my surprise, I saw this instead:

Still frame from RT YouTube video.
There is a good video of this that unfortunately has embedding disabled so I can't include it as part of this post, but you can watch it on YouTube here.

The video isn't of my experience, as I haven't taken a good video of one myself because my camera is very poor at night and the other times it has happened to me after this were on approach, a time which is way too busy to be playing with a camera. Nonetheless, if I had gotten a picture, it would have looked quite like the one above.

I noticed that many YouTube commenters think that laser pointers don't go high enough to enter a cockpit. Note that the first time it happened to me it was at 12,000 feet. That's way higher than those self-appointed YouTube "experts" claim is possible. Yes, it is quite possible, because it has happened to me, and I am not the only one. Many of my co-workers have their own laser stories.

I honestly don't understand what possesses someone to shine a laser pointer at an aircraft filled with 50 or more people. Maybe they really do think it is harmless and their little laser won't make it up there. Here's your proof that it actually does.

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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