Laser research helps pilots

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Lasers pointed at aircraft may cause distraction or temporary flash blindness to pilots

Published: November 12, 2013.

(L to R) Lewis University students Hubert Bilan,
Zachary Widel and Matt Moy work on developing
a protective coating for aircraft windshields.

Since 2005, reported laser attacks from people on the ground directed towards arriving and departing aircraft have increased more than 300 percent. Researchers at Lewis University recently determined a laser aimed at the windshield of the aircraft has measured levels of light intensity that not only can startle a pilot, but it may cause distraction or flash blindness in the critical phases of flight during takeoff and landing. The study, “Measured Intensity of Laser Light Penetrating Flight Decks in Laser Illuminations” determined empirical evidence of laser intensity in the flight deck.

Results revealed that relatively low-powered lasers had measured intensity levels through cockpit windshields at the 200 and 500 feet distances that may cause damage to crewmembers’ eyes according to standards established by the federal government. At longer distances of 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 feet, these same lasers did not reveal measured intensities at levels to cause damage to crewmembers’ eyes; however, they were considered as having potentially distracting visual effects in flight that were further categorized as temporary flash blindness, glare or disruption and distraction or startle.

“The interdisciplinary nature of this study was essential in the collaboration of talented minds from aviation, physics and chemistry, among others, “commented Dr. Randal DeMik, an author of the study and associate professor and director of Aviation and Transportation Graduate program. He continued, “Our work continues now as we move into phase two, which is expected to result in some true innovation.”

Other authors of the study include, Dr. Stanley Harriman, assistant professor of aviation and transportation, Dr. Ryan Phillips, assistant professor aviation and transportation, Dr. Charles Crowder, associate professor of physics, aviation graduate students Jennifer Pfeifer, Shane McHugh, Steven Foster, Richard Antoniolli, David York and Jacob Luedtke and physics undergraduate students Elizabeth de Waard, Michael Streit and Ernest Knight.

The research results of Lewis University undergraduate students, graduate students and professors were recently published in the “Journal of Aviation Technology and Engineering.” The publication is for collegiate and industrial scholars and researchers in the multidisciplinary fields of aviation technology, engineering and human factors.

This research was sponsored, in part, by a grant from the Colonel Stephan S. and Lyla Doherty Center for Aviation and Health Research. The Doherty Center funds research and scholarly initiatives and provides opportunities for research experiences for students with faculty mentors. Investigators supported by the Doherty Center have focused on several areas, such as cardiac therapy, wound management, flight deck laser illumination, the environment, diabetes, MRSA, and alternative fuels for aviation.

Since 1932, Lewis University has led the field of aviation education by preparing students from around the world to succeed in the aviation industries. An on-site airport, experienced and industry-leading faculty, personalized learning, degree programs that provide you with specialized experience and a well-rounded business, management and liberal arts education have made Lewis University’s aviation program one of the most respected in Illinois. Lewis University offers a master’s degree in aviation and transportation as well as bachelor’s degrees in aviation flight management, aviation administration, aviation maintenance management, air traffic control management, aviation security and transportation administration.

Lewis University is a Catholic university in the Lasallian tradition offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 6,500 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected, and socially responsible graduates. The seventh largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. Visit for further information.

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