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New Navy Invention: Laser Detector Protects Pilots' Eyes

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS041210-03
Release Date: 12/10/2004 12:18:00 PM

By James Darcy, Naval Air Station Patuxent River Public Affairs

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (NNS) -- The Vision Laboratory in Naval Air Systems Command's (NAVAIR) Human Systems Division won an Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine "Product Breakthrough" award in late November for its Laser Event Recorder (LER), a device that gives aviators instant warning about laser radiation potentially hazardous to their eyesight.

The LER is a green box which "tells" flyers if they are being targeted by a laser, and whether that laser can damage their eyes. A green light on the box means the system is functioning and everything is normal; yellow means a laser is pointed at them but is not an eye hazard; and red means they are being targeted by a laser that threatens their vision.

"There are anti-personnel systems out there that are designed to make it very hard to do your mission, while even something as seemingly innocuous as a casino's laser light show or laser pointer can temporarily blind air crew and pose a hazard to aircraft many miles distant," said Jim Sheehy, Ph.D., chief scientist and chief technology officer for Human Systems.

Though other laser detectors are in use by the fleet and other services, Sheehy said the units do not provide "real-time, medically relevant" information to the crews as they are flying their missions. Sensors currently in use can't cover the complete range of laser threats, nor can they let aviators know whether or not a laser pointed in their direction is dangerous to their eyes.

With its sensors and integrated global positioning system, the tiny LER not only encodes information about the type of laser that was encountered, but also records a digital picture, which allows analysts to see from where the laser emanated. Air crews on subsequent missions can avoid the threat or target it for elimination, as necessary. In the meantime, medical personnel can use the recorded data to better assess the extent of damage that may have been done to a pilot's vision and inform them of treatment options.

The LER not only gives simple feedback to the crew at the time of a laser event, but also records detailed information onto a compact flash card for later analysis by intelligence officers, medical staff or other air crews, said Jerri Tribble, Ph.D., research physicist and technical lead for the Navy team developing the laser event recorder.

Designing laser eye protection for the fleet is one of the Vision Laboratory's top priorities, Sheehy added. The challenge lies in taking out the right frequencies and intensities to protect against a probable laser threat, without compromising a pilot's ability to see cockpit displays, lighting and other important visual cues.

"We're always balancing where and how to provide protection," Sheehy added.

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