When the House aviation subcommittee met Tuesday to discuss the hazards posed by ground-based lasers aimed at pilots, talk quickly turned to an Air Force plan to use lasers to signal aircraft that stray too close to the no-fly zone around Washington, D.C.
While the Air Force claims its laser system, called the Visual Warning System (VWS), is safe, not everyone is so sure. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC), an AOPA member and GA pilot, expressed concern that tests of the new laser system had only been conducted on pressurized aircraft — not smaller GA aircraft with thinner windscreens. He urged the Air Force to work with AOPA to develop and test the system on aircraft such as a Cessna 172 or Beechcraft Bonanza to ensure that the lights don't pose a hazard to typical general aviation aircraft.
"AOPA would welcome the opportunity to ensure that this laser system doesn't create a hazard for GA," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Rep. Hayes clearly understands that what's safe for an airline crew may not be safe for a GA pilot flying alone in a small airplane, and he recognizes that AOPA has the knowledge and experience to represent the GA perspective."
Hayes wasn't the only congressman looking out for GA interests during the hearing. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), also an AOPA member and pilot, was the first to raise the issue of how lasers could affect GA pilots. He said that he had been thinking about how distracting it would be to try to land his own aircraft with a laser in his eyes.
The VWS would flash an "eye-safe" laser at aircraft that wander too close to the flight-restricted zone (FRZ) within the Washington ADIZ, illuminating the cockpit with alternating red and green laser lights. It would be used only after air traffic control attempts to contact the aircraft had failed. The Air Force claims the lasers will be bright enough to get a pilot's attention but not so bright as to be distracting.
The VWS will consist of seven turrets, each housing a red and a green laser, placed around the Capital region. The 1.5-watt lasers would be diffused through lenses to produce wide, low-intensity beams covering an area roughly 100-feet in diameter 10 nm from the turret. The lasers will be visible at distances up to 10 nm during the day and 25 nm at night. Each turret will be connected to a command center. If an aircraft enters the ADIZ on a course for the FRZ and is not in communication with air traffic control, the aircraft will receive 2 red laser pulses followed by a green pulse.
March 15, 2005