Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jet Fighters Equipped With Eye-Blinding Lasers Target Cars

'Class Four Lasers' Used In Fighters Also Listed As 'Laser Cannons'

The Australian Air Force claims it had a bit of a problem with its F/A-18 jet fighters during a training exercise on the North Coast. For almost a minute the fighters targeted cars at an intersection outside of Forster with laser beams strong enough to permanently blind the unfortunates who got in their way :

The pilots thought their laser targeting system was turned off for the training flight. Unfortunately it wasn't and the powerful light beams, known as class four lasers, were shone twice on to a road intersection for a total of 43 seconds.

The lasers used by Hornet fighters as target designators are the most powerful laser beams used by the air force.

While the likelihood of injury is rare, the powerful beams of compressed light have the potential to damage the retina permanently. According to the department, the symptoms of laser damage would be easy to recognise and investigate. If exposure had occurred symptoms would include glare, dazzle, a sudden bright flash (similar to a camera flash), and potentially pain and watering.

"Blurring and loss of vision may also be experienced. This could be temporary or permanent," the department said. "Visual changes would depend on amount and location of injury; small changes may not be obvious without specialist eye assessment."

Big changes however would be obvious. You'd be blind.

The incident happened back in mid-May. So why has the RAAF come clean in a press release with no prodding from journalists? Has there been an outbreak of sudden blindness amongst locals on the North Coast?

Or is there something just a bit more sinister to this story?

This page on laser safety makes 'class four lasers', as cited in the above story, sound more like a focused light energy weapon than simply a jet fighter's targeting tool :

Class 4 lasers are harmful to eyes and skin, even diffuse reflections are hazardous. Class four lasers may also present a fire hazard. (Examples: laser welding machines, laser canons)

That laser safety page also says that even being in the vicinity of an activated laser as powerful as a 'class four' can be very unhealthy, even if it's not burning through your retinas.

More on Ray-Gun Reality and lasers as weapons of war here.

And a story on how airborne lasers can track missiles in flight, and even one day be used to destroy them...maybe.

If the headline above sounds a wee bit tabloid-esque, it's because we've just finished writing a lengthy tribute to the infamous Weekly World News, which is closing after almost three decades, over at Planet Of Strange Things. We fear dipping into the WWN archives may have rubbed off a bit tonight. Goodbye Bat Boy.