Laser pointers may be great fun to tease the cat with, but for pilots they are a major hazard. The United States FAA reports over 2,000 incidents every year of planes having lasers pointed at them – some of them powerful enough to pop a balloon. To combat the danger that lasers pose to aviation, the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) is developing new eye wear that can filter out a wide range of laser wavelengths.
Shining a laser at an airplane is more than a silly prank. It’s extremely dangerous. A pilot in a darkened cockpit making a critical low-altitude flight at night can be distracted or temporarily blinded by a flash of laser light. Though no accidents have been officially attributed to laser pointers, civilian and military aeronautical agencies believe that it is only a matter of time before a tragedy occurs.
Worse, laser dazzler weapons have been part of the military arsenal since the Falklands War in the 1980s and are regularly used in combat areas. For this reason, the MoD is particularly keen on finding an effective protection against lasers. The trouble is, current eye protection covers only one wavelength of laser light at a time and civilian and military lasers cover many wavelengths. To be effective, anti-laser eye wear needs to provide wider protection.
The new prototype spectacles were developed by Glasgow-based company Thin Film Solution. It uses a composite structure consisting of a polycarbonate layer made with a special light-absorbing dye. This is bonded to the glass lenses with a special coating that reflects certain wavelengths. The result is spectacles that can reflect or filter out different laser wavelengths.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) working with Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) are evaluating the specially designed eyewear. The technology is still under development and the MoD admits that it shows some weaknesses, but work continues with DSTL and the United States Air Force’s Tri-Service Research Laboratory in San Antonio, Texas, where human tests were carried out in May of this year.
Further testing is scheduled by DSTL with laser dazzle and performance testing to be carried out by U.K. research and technology company QinetiQ.
Source: Ministry of Defence