Ground-to-air lasers: dangers, what you need to know

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. --

Imagine you’re F-15E Strike Eagle aircrew performing complex maneuvers in the black of night when all of suddenly an intensely bright light blasts the cockpit.

Your windshield is instantly turned opaquely green, you’re temporarily blinded and your eyes immediately sting.

You are the victim of a ground-to-air laser attack.    

These kinds of attacks can threaten the mission of the 4th Fighter Wing, national defense and combatant commander’s objectives at overseas locations.

The 4 FW operates F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft, with a mission of providing dominant Strike Eagle airpower … Anytime, anywhere.

The F-15E is a dual-role fighter, worth more than $31 million, designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Recently, members of the 335th Fighter Squadron flew more than 1,200 sorties into Iraq and Syria in support of OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE. They dropped more than 2,000 bombs on various Islamic State of Iraq and Syria targets, including oil fields, oil transportation, and cash reserves.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, sudden exposure to laser radiation during a critical phase of flight can distract or disorient a pilot and cause temporary visual impairment.

“FAA flight simulator studies have shown the adverse visual effects from laser exposure are especially debilitating when the eyes are adapted to the low-light level of a cockpit at night,” according to Laser Hazards In Navigable Airspace published by the FAA. “Similar to a camera flash at close proximity or the high-beam headlights of an oncoming car, recovering optimal visual performance after exposure to laser light may take from a few seconds to several minutes.”

The three most commonly reported physiological effects associated with laser exposure are: glare, flash-blindness and afterimage.

Capt. Matthew Kessler, 335th FS weapon systems officer, and 1st Lt. Luke Villalobos, 335th FS pilot, recently experienced a laser attack in January 2017 while flying a night sortie during a training mission.

“We’re [trained] to look away, but the light looks so odd because it’s so bright that you’re almost drawn to it like a moth to a flame,” said Kessler. “If it’s your first time being lased, then a second or more usually passes before you realize what it is and look away.”

Once the laser has stopped, aircrew are instructed to note the time, the aircraft’s parameters, and the origin of the laser. That information is then passed on to the aircrew’s operations supervisor who passes it on the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Upon return to the base, the aircrew immediately visit the flight doctor who checks for eye damage. 

In this particular incident, neither of the aircrew suffered lasting damage to their eyesight. However, the situation could have had a different outcome all together; loss of life and severe damage to government equipment.

Over a 20-year period, the FAA collected 3,000 reports of illumination events from both military and civil sectors, to include law enforcement and medevac flights.

“Illumination reports often describe several types of adverse effects,” according to Laser Hazards In Navigable Airspace published by the FAA. “These include visual effects, pain and/or possible injury, and operational problems. Operational problems include momentary distraction, disorientation resulting in another pilot assuming control, aborted landings, loss of depth perception, and shutting down a runway due to multiple laser strikes.”

In the United States, lasing an aircraft is a crime under the Code of Federal Aviation Regulations 14 CFR 91.11, which prohibits interfering with a flight crew operating an aircraft. In 2011, the FAA called for stiff civil penalties, up to $11,000 per violation, for anyone deliberately shining a laser at an aircraft.

Kessler warns that people might think they’re just highlighting airplanes as they flyby, but aircrew members have sustained damage to their eyes which caused employment termination, or worse in some cases, permanent blindness.

“We put a lot of time and energy away from our families to do what we do, whether civilian or military aviators, and [someone pointing a laser] could ruin it in a matter of seconds,” said Kessler. “This not only effects my family in the long term, but how am I supposed to land a multi-million dollar warplane if I’m blinded? If we are put in harm’s way, it should be when we’re fighting threats like ISIS, not from a child or adult with a laser pointer in our own backyard.”

If you witness an individual aiming a laser at an aircraft, the FAA asks you to send an email to and include the following information:

  • Name:
  • Contact information:
  • Date and time you witnessed the laser incident:
  • Description of the incident:

If more information is needed, a member of the FAA staff or an appropriate law enforcement agency may contact you for additional information or clarification. 

For more information visit
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.