Thursday, April 21, 2011

Laser Attack

At 20,000 feet and it was like rushing just above the tops of a jungle. The lower layer of clouds wasn’t the usual flat expanse or bunched up pack of cumulus, rather it was a thick layer with bulging domes towering a couple of hundred feet above us. Between the domes the air was clear all the way to the horizon. A few thousand feet above was an upper layer perfectly smooth along the bottom. Its dark edge was clearly visible against the fading glow at the very end of twilight. The sight was a rare enough combination to elicit comments from both of us sitting in the cockpit; such are the real reasons we fly.

With a clearance to cross JHAUN at 12,000 we started down about 30 NM east of the intersection. The layer below was thick, looked juicy with moisture and was just the right temperature for making ice; all the heats were on as we settled into the dark mass. Even the wingtip lights faded from view as we sank deeper into the murk, but SUS weather was advertised as 15,000 scattered with 10 miles of vis, out from under the edge of the dual overcasts.

At JHAUN Kansas City Center handed us over to St. Louis approach, which then cleared us down to 5000 feet. At 5000 we crossed the Mississippi, now in the clear, and spotted the green / white rotating beacon that marks home base, still some 20 miles away. One cycle of the boots shed the last of the ice off the wings. Cleared out of 5 down to 4000 feet the TCAS (traffic alert and collision avoidance system) and Approach both advised of an aircraft climbing up toward our altitude off the starboard side. (I was FO on this flight and so sitting on that side of the cockpit.) Spotting traffic against the ground lights of a big city is often difficult, but I have a lot of practice and called the traffic in sight a few seconds later. As is my habit I continued a visual sweep of the ground lights as we started down, leaning forward to look past my co-captain…

…just then a blinding green light exploded in the cockpit. Some gutter crawling, motherless bit of worm turd had launched a laser attack that caught me full in the face, lancing directing into eyes completely acclimated to night by nearly an hour spent between and in the clouds. It hurt.

Both of us flinched away as we were swept again and again, but the first hit was the one that mattered. Fortunately my vision mostly cleared a few moments later and we finished the approach and landing without incident. (My eyes felt like grit for the rest of the evening but this morning I am fine; if still spitting mad.) I had informed Approach of the attack as it happened; the response? “Was it the red one or the green one?”

Was it the red one or the green one! Apparently a collection of pond scum is making a habit of assaulting aircraft cockpits with industrial strength lasers as they let down into the St. Louis area. We could have been anything from an eight passenger corporate jet to a 200 passenger airliner. The cockpit of a fast moving jet down low and on an approach is a busy place. It is not hard to envision such an assault as the first link in a fatal chain of events. Surely the hand behind the laser was hoping for such a result. What kind of slime attacks people they can’t possibly know and who have certainly done the attacker no personal harm?

Anyone on an airplane that assaulted the flight crew in like manor would be treated by the TSA and Dept. of Homeland Security as a terrorist; likely to disappear into the Bush/Obama gulag system and never see the light of day again. I certainly wouldn’t protest. But 5 minutes of “free time” in a room with me and a baseball bat would accomplish roughly the same thing, and cost the taxpayers a lot less money.

(We now return to our regularly scheduled blog of a mild mannered, middle-aged bloke working to move onto a sailboat.)


Ed said...

Tim, If this is a "known and recurring" problem on the descent into St. Louis, why the h$ll isn't the FAA, DHS, TSA or the local PD not actively investigating and solving this premeditated assault. We had a identical occurance a few weeks ago on a Southwest 737 landing at BWI with hundreds of passengers onboard. With all the resources federal and local agencies have, you would think they would have spotter helicopters up with FLIR to find and convict these (insert adjective) scumbags.

TJ said...

Wish I knew the answer to that one Ed. Apparently pilots who have been flash blinded in the cockpit of a jet doing 250 kts close to the ground, and are scrambling trying to keep their equilibrium, are the only ones who think this is serious.

Ed said...

I hope you are out of St. Louis!