Hugh Pickens writes:
The FBI has announced that they are expanding their campaign nationwide aimed at deterring people from pointing lasers at aircraft-by rewarding those who provide information about individuals who engage in this dangerous crime and aggressively prosecuting the perpetrators. A key part of the publicity campaign is reward money. The FBI will offer up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of any individual who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft. "We want to encourage people to come forward when they see someone committing this crime, which could have terrible consequences for pilots and their passengers," says George Johnson.
Since the FBI and the FAA began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been more than a 1,100 percent increase in the number of incidents with these devices, which can be purchased in stores or online for as little as a few dollars. Last year, 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft were reported. It is estimated that thousands of attacks go unreported every year. In March a 26-year-old California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for aiming a laser pointer at a police helicopter and a hospital emergency transport helicopter. The man and his girlfriend were using a device that was 13 times more powerful than the permissible power emission level for handheld lasers. The girlfriend was also convicted and recently sentenced to a two-year prison term.
How I imagine these incidents happen (I have never done this, don't even own a laser pointer). Average Joe gets a new laser pointer, Shines it on the opposite wall and says "Wow, look at the laser beam power output and coherence!". Immediately the hunt for far away targets starts. Shines it out the window. Building across the street? No problem. Building at end of block? No problem. Farthest away building in line of site? Hard to hold it steady enough to aim, but after a couple minutes of trying manages to hold it on the building and can still see it! Wow, need something even farther away. Airplane in sky - Hot damn, let's give it a try!!!!! Wow, it's so far away, doesn't know if laser is even hitting it our not. After 5 minutes of standing in middle of street trying, police show up and tackle him to the ground.
Actually, there is a body of evidence that suggests that at least SOME people believe their dinky little laser can't reach a plane.
This is because the beam usually seems to disappear at the Planetary Boundary Layer [wikipedia.org]. Clean air above a certain relatively small altitude (400-ish meters) does not reflect laser light as well as does the lower air.
Some people seeing their beam fizzle out after a couple hundred meters think they can't possibly interfere with an airplane. (Which leaves you wondering why they would try to light up an aircraft).
This page explains it,: http://www.laserpointersafety.com/page52/aviationfacts/whybeamsseemtoend.html [laserpointersafety.com]