Printer Friendly

Your eyes ... their target: lasers and the aviator.

Sixty-five percent of our sensory input is visual, making it a priority for protection and preservation, especially in the visual-driven aviation environment. Unfortunately, this most important sense is threatened by lasers. From the aviation platform to high-tech entertainment, the advancement of laser technology has resulted in a proliferation of laser-related devices. With the increase in laser use comes an increase in the chance of laser-induced eye injury. Most eye injuries are preventable, with proper understanding.


Laser illumination incidences are happening, and they are a detriment to flight safety. The number of commercial and military pilots who report a lasing incident has increased with the proliferation of lasers, particularly inexpensive green laser pointers and red laser aiming devices. Laser incidences range from accidental exposure while in training exercises to purposeful exposure in combat. Exposure even can come from laser pointers on the ground. While most pilots continue flying, some have been injured.


Lasers may cause glare, flash blindness, and after images, as well as physical pain and psychological discomfort.

Glare occurs when excessive amounts of light interferes with vision, reducing your contrast. For aircrew, glare may result from several different interactions with lasers. These include lasers illuminating the cockpit windshield or other outer surfaces (such as a body of water), a pilot's eyes, and the interior of the aircraft (such as the controls, instruments, or even corrective lenses or eye protection). In all these instances, glare may arise, temporarily reducing one's ability to see, as well as causing pain or discomfort.

After you have been lased, whether glare has occurred or not, you may experience flash insensitivity and after images. Flash insensitivity is also known as flash blindness. The most common example is flash photography. After images are the visual persistence of an image after the stimulus causing that image has gone. This effect occurs through intense or prolonged stimulation. Both these phenomena can interfere with flying your aircraft by obscuring your central vision.


Damage to the visual system from lasers range from mild and reversible to permanent. Injuries range from burns on the cornea or retina, holes, hemorrhages, retinal scarring, macular holes, and macular cysts. It is possible that the complications from an untreated injury will cause more damage than the injury itself. Injury is amplified by the use of attenuating media, such as NVGs and other optical systems. It is extremely important to speak to your flight surgeon if you suspect you have been lased.


The aviation environment frequently uses lasers for range finding, detection, weapons, warning systems, training, and more. Lasers viewed with an aided eye (such as wearing night-vision goggles) attenuate exposure and injury. Lasers also may be used for the intentional purpose of temporary visual disruption, which may be caused by visual glare, flash blindness, or after images. Although these effects are temporary and do not damage tissue, they significantly may degrade performance, especially at critical times, such as takeoff or landing, where lasers most likely are to be used.


To minimize exposure effects, it is important to take several actions; these include avoidance (flying over known areas of exposure) and laser-eye protection (LEP). As common sense as it may sound to avoid looking directly at the laser, it is normal human reaction to turn to the source of stimulation and give it more attention. When you suspect you are being lased, you should put your head down and avert your eyes.


One of the best means of protecting yourself is to use LEP, which may be in the form of spectacles or visors, either worn alone or in combination with other personal-protective equipment (PPE). Laser eye protection may cover a broad range of wavelengths or just a small notch of the spectrum, where a known threat laser operates. Though all LEP inhibit the transmission of laser wavelengths, they differ greatly in their performance, so choose your LEP carefully and ensure a proper match. The right LEP will be compatible with your cockpit lighting and will let you see your instruments and warning lights.

Another means of protection is the airborne laser-event recorder. This recorder can collect data on the laser threat and allow you to deploy specific tactical or material mitigation solutions. This recorder is mounted on your aircraft in a strategic area and is instrumental to protection. NavAir human systems can help you here.

Cdr. Reddix and Lt. Svec are with the Naval Health Research Center Detachment, Directed Energy Bioeffects Laboratory.

Introduction to Lasers

Laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Lasers convert incident electromagnetic radiation of mixed frequencies to discrete frequencies of highly amplified and coherent ultraviolet, visible, or infrared radiation.

Lasers range in size from semiconductor devices no bigger than a grain of salt to high-powered instruments as large as an average living room. Lasers can be so powerful that their power, concentrated at a single point, easily can be a billion times the intensity at the surface of the sun. Commercial lasers are applied in such areas as welding, machining, measuring, tracking, and surgery. Military lasers are applied in range finding, target designation, illumination, detection, and weapons aiming.

What to do if you are exposed.

Report when you are lased or think you have been lased. When reporting the exposure event to your flight surgeon, you should try to relay the following information:

What color was the laser?

From which direction did it come?

What did you perceive?

Did you perceive it in one eye or both eyes?

Were you in a training exercise or performing an operational mission?

Do you know what the laser was? (You might know for example, that it came from a range-finding device on a team member's aircraft)

How long do you believe you were being lased?

Did it interfere with your aircraft operation? If so, how?

Was your vision obscured after the laser was no longer present?

Did you have any after images and if so, what color were they and what size?


NASIC Laser Incident Report email box:

By Cdr. Michael Reddix, MSC and Lt. Leedjia Svec, MSC
COPYRIGHT 2010 U.S. Naval Safety Center
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Reddix, Michael; Svec, Leedjia
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Previous Article:Let's keep you flying.
Next Article:When pigs flu.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters