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Laser warning system test planned over nation's capitalLaser warning system test planned over nation's capital

Laser warning system test planned over nation's capital

The AOPA staff, government officials, and the media will get a demonstration next week of a new laser system intended to warn pilots who stray too close to restricted airspace around Washington, D.C.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) developed the ground-based system, called the Visual Warning System (VWS), that sends out low-level beams of alternating red and green light to warn pilots that they are flying without permission in designated airspace. It's designed to alert pilots who violate the Washington Metropolitan Area Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and can't be reached by radio.

In conjunction with the FAA and Air Force, demonstration flights will be conducted using military aircraft. While the government claims the technology isn't harmful to the eye and isn't bright enough to distract pilots, members of Congress have raised concerns about the lack of testing on smaller unpressurized aircraft with thinner windscreens.

The VWS consists of seven turrets, each housing a red and a green laser, placed around the Capital region. The 1.5-watt lasers are diffused through lenses to produce wide, low-intensity beams covering an area roughly 100-feet in diameter 10 nautical miles from the turret. The lasers are visible at distances up to 10 nm during the day and 25 nm at night. Each turret is connected to a command center.

NORAD plans to have the system operational in 30 to 45 days.

April 8, 2005

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