Laser warning system goes live

May 18, 2005

Laser warning system goes live

The military's new visual warning system (VWS), designed to warn pilots who have strayed into restricted airspace in and around Washington, D.C., went live on Saturday, May 21. The new system enhances the security surrounding the nation's capital.

"The VWS is a way to quickly notify pilots who inadvertently stray into restricted airspace that won't cause panic in the cockpit or on the ground," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "The system minimizes the need for airborne intercepts, which is safer for everyone."

The VWS is the latest in a growing array of defenses around Washington that include extensive and complex airspace restrictions, missile batteries, and improved surveillance. The laser signal, not harmful to the eye, consists of a sequence of red-red-green lights targeted at the aircraft in question. For pilots not in communication with air traffic control, the procedure is to immediately turn away from the signal and call ATC on the local frequency or on 121.5 MHz.

AOPA previously evaluated the system and found that it was bright enough to be seen, but not so bright as to be blinding or excessively distracting to pilots. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) developed the ground-based laser system. It will only be used when the military personnel cannot visually identify the intended aircraft.

See the VWS notam and watch a brief video of the system in action.

Update: May 23, 2005