A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
Protective eyewear for pilots
Some pilots have advocated using laser protective eyewear, or “anti-laser glasses.” The FAA is aware of LPEs but currently does not recommend or require LPE use.
Pilots who want to use LPEs can do so -- subject of course to any rules applied by their airline or employer. Interested pilots should consider laser safety glasses developed specifically to protect against laser pointer illuminations. We are currently (December 2016) aware of these brands: LaserShields eyewear from NoIR Laser Co., Laser Armor eyewear from Night Flight Concepts, LaseReflect Aviator eyewear from Iridian Spectral Technologies, Flash Fighters eyewear from Kentek, Laser-Gard eyewear from Sperian/Honeywell, Laser Defense eyewear from PerriQuest, LazrBloc eyewear from Revision Military and ST Laserstrike eyewear from ST Laserstrike (Brinell Vision, Optimum RX Lens and Sierra Tango).
Iridian’s Jason Palidwar wrote a detailed article about protective eyewear, for the January 2014 issue of Photonics Spectra. The article is reprinted here and is also a good resource on this topic.
Also, in February 2017, Airbus announced plans to “validate, certify and commercialize” an anti-laser film applied to the windscreen. If this works and becomes cost-effective, then of course laser protective eyewear would not be needed in aircraft equipped with the laser-reflecting film.
How laser protective eyewear works
The photo-illustrations below give an idea of how these glasses work:
Actual photo of Airbus A330 banking while coming in to land at Zurich airport.
Simulated laser illumination added. Glare prevents view of background lights.
Simulated use of laser pointer protection glasses.
The laser location is still visible, but glare is significantly reduced.
Note that green cockpit lights are not adversely affected -- they can still be seen.
GlareShields from NoIR
NoIR developed GlareShields with input from Los Angeles Police Department helicopter pilots. LAPD used these both to provide protection, and to help track down ongoing laser misusers. (See the story here; the link to KABC’s report also mentions use of the laser glasses.)
As of July 2011, there are three models. PBG reduces green by 99.5%, blue by 97%, has 49% transmittance for low-light conditions, and has “good” instrument panel visibility. AG2 reduces green by 99%, has 53% transmittance for low-light conditions, and has “excellent” instrument panel visibility. BGR is for full sun conditions; it reduces green, blue and red by 90-97%, with 29% transmittance for full sun conditions.
Laser Armor Aviator Glasses from Night Flight
According to Night Flight, Laser Armor Aviator Glasses “were designed to support the specific operational requirements of pilots and crewmembers in civil aviation (fixed and rotary-wing), including airborne law enforcement, Search&Rescue (SAR), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), commercial airline and cargo transport.” They absorb green and blue beams without degradation of visual acuity or cockpit display panel color recognition. A brochure with more information is available.
This chart from Night Flight shows Laser Armor Aviator Glasses
absorbing 99.5% of green beams and 97.0% of blue beams
LaseReflect Aviator from Iridian Spectral Technologies
LaseReflect Aviator glasses normally reflect 532 nm green and 1064 nm infrared, but also can be special-ordered to reflect violet, blue and red light. Between these laser wavelengths, visible light transmission is over 80%, as shown by the transmittance diagram below. A press release announcing the glasses is here.
LaseReflect Aviator glasses reflect up to four wavelengths,
with high visibility between these wavelengths
Flash Fighters from Kentek
These are dye-based laser protective eyewear in metal aviator frames. They have “near perfect” color recognition for day or night use, with no back reflection. Visible light transmission is 57%. The chart shows the protection against blue (440 nm), green (532 nm) and red (640 nm). A product data sheet is here.
Laser-Gard from Sperian
The Sperian Laser-Gard model we examined is for nighttime protection against the most common green laser pointers. It has a very narrow-band filter (25 nanometers) that is claimed to eliminate 99% of 532 nanometer laser light. Because of the narrow bandpass, they do not adversely degrade color recognition.
These glasses have been tested by pilots for a major U.S. airline, who confirm that they can still safely distinguish colors in the cockpit (including green on indicators and LCD displays), and on airport lighting. Informal testing by LaserPointerSafety.com shows that Laser-Gard turns green laser pointer “hits” from being uncomfortably bright, to being minor and manageable. Because 1% of laser light is transmitted, it is still possible to tell where the laser is coming from. This aids in identifying perpetrators.
Sperian has four models of Laser-Gard; two for daylight use (bronze-colored sunglasses that also have laser protection), and two for nighttime use (salmon-colored glasses with maximum light transmission except for the laser wavelength). Within each group, there is green-only protection, and green-and-red protection. The cost for the nighttime, green-only Laser-Gard glasses we examined is $99. One U.S. source is Rockwell Laser Industries.
Laser Defense Eyewear from PerriQuest
There are two models of PerriQuest Laser Defense Eyewear: PerriQuest Night “is designed to combine three-wavelength laser blocking coverage [red, green and blue] with high ambient light and more red spectrum to preserve maximum visual acuity and night vision.” Green-tinted PerriQuest Day also has three-wavelength laser blocking and adds “sun protection and UV-blocking for daytime use.”
The lenses are glass and have been processed by Carl Zeiss Vision Laboratory. As of July 2015, the glasses are available for pre-order; a shipping date is not indicated. According to a media story, a pair of glasses cost $400.
According to the manufacturer, the glasses maintain color discrimination so cockpit and airport lights are still visible and remain color-distinguishable. Graphics on their website show how colors (mostly reds) may shift slightly in hue but are still distinguishable.
Weather radar colors. Top = normal colors as seen without glasses.
Bottom = simulated view through PerriQuest Laser Defense Eyewear.
(The manufacturer did not specify if this simulates the Night or Day version.)
This chart from PerriQuest shows how colors shift when seen through the lens.
For example, the bright green at a*=-70, b*=+80 shifts to a more yellow green;
reds shift to orange. But because the shifted colors remain visible and stay within
the same general hue, the manufacturer says this “eliminates the possibility
of color confusion.”
LazrBloc from Revision Military
Revision Military’s LazrBloc Laser Eye Protection (LEP) combines leading-edge laser dye technologies with Revision’s robust protective eyewear products. Formulated using computer modeling and proprietary laser absorbers, LazrBloc lenses maximize laser attenuation—optical density—and minimize effect on the field of vision—maintaining the highest possible visible light transmission (VLT). Revision’s LazrBloc laser lenses deliver ballistic protection in accordance with American and international industrial standards, as well as U.S. military standards.
Revision’s latest laser lens—the LazrBloc GF-8—is a cross-functional aviation, law enforcement, and military solution for in-field vision disruption, disorientation, and impairment caused by green laser energy. GF-8 lenses block up to 99.9% of 532 nm green laser energy, and stop 99% of 808 nm near-infrared radiation, a hazardous, invisible component of green lasers. GF-8 laser lenses allow greater VLT and color recognition, are treated with Revision’s OcuMax© Plus anti-fog coating, provide 100% UV-A-B-C protection, and are made from high-impact polycarbonate that exceeds military ballistic impact requirements. GF-8 comes in various kits, and is priced at $199.99.
Revision’s LazrBloc lenses are interchangeable, situation–adaptable LEP solutions that can be tailored and customized to end-user needs and requirements. Revision provides ballistic LEP, in a variety of configurations and form factors, to military forces worldwide.
ST Laserstrike from ST Laserstrike (Brinell Vision, Optimum RX Lens and Sierra Tango)
ST Laserstrike glasses feature light weight/high durability lenses, high blocking levels from blue and green laser-attack, outstanding color balance for cockpit instruments, high efficiency multi-layer ultraviolet & anti-reflective coating on inside surface, infrared blocking for unfiltered and illegal handheld laser pointers, and ultraviolet-blue light (HEV) eye protection. Prescription lenses are available.
There are three different frames, including one that resembles typical aviator sunglasses.
ST Laserstrike has two levels of protection available:
Type 1 – General laser flash protection (suitable for most operations)
Allow normal operation with laser pointers <200mW* Provide eye damage protection from sources up to 2W, based on pilot being >200m from source & typical beam divergence. To comply with minimum EN207 DIR LB2 (400-445nm blue, 532nm green, 808-1064nm Infrared). Provide approx. 40% Visible Light Transmission
Type 2 – High powered laser attack protection (suitable for extreme environments)
Allow normal operation with laser pointers <2W, and eye damage protection from sources up to 20W, based on pilot being >200m from source & typical beam divergence. To comply with minimum EN207 DIR LB3 (400-445nm blue, 532nm green, 808-1064nm Infrared). Provide approx. 30% Visible Light Transmission
Pilots should NOT rely on ordinary sunglasses or common “blue blocker” type glasses. Using sunglasses at dusk, night and dawn (when almost all laser incidents occur) could be unsafe. Blue blocker glasses have an effect on many different colors of blue and green. This may adversely effect how cockpit instruments and airport lights are perceived.
Pilots should also be cautious of laser safety glasses made for laboratory use, which are not specified for aviation use. They may limit too wide a range of colors, or may not be effective against the most common laser pointer colors.
Simulated use of general-purpose green-blocking glasses,
where 50% of broadband green light is blocked.
Note significant change in instrument panel colors.
Obviously, these should not be used for anti-laser purposes.
Helpful, but not a complete solution
Laser protective eyewear is helpful, but LPEs are not a complete solution to the laser pointer problem. Some key reasons are:
- Anti-laser glasses can only protect against one or a few specific wavelengths of laser light. In 2010, roughly 7% of the 2,836 incidents in FAA’s database involved light that was not green. Red lasers have been common for years, and powerful blue lasers using a 445 nanometer diode are becoming more popular.
- Anti-laser glasses will reduce visible light transmittance, so the view may be dimmer.
- In general, the more wavelengths (colors) that are protected against, the dimmer the view — compared with single-wavelength blocking glasses.
- Any laser incident may be over before glasses can be put on. (Or, if the pilot wears them all the time, this means that the glasses are unneeded well over 99.99% of the time.)
Obviously, pilots should not have laser light aimed at them in the first place. Also, pilots should know how to recognize and recover from a laser illumination, whether or not they happen to be wearing eyewear.
But appropriate LPEs, specifically designed for aviation use, can be helpful for pilots who might want to have an extra level of protection against common laser pointers. Any LPE should be safely tested on the ground or during autopilot flight to ensure that the particular indicators and displays in the cockpit are still adequately visible when wearing the glasses.
It is then up to the pilot to decide whether to use these routinely, to use them only at certain airports, or to simply have them available in the cockpit in case laser incidents are reported by other pilots or ATC during a flight.
Additional information about LPEs is in this FAQ question.
“Eyewear Helps Thwart Laser-Pointer Attacks”, by Jason Palidwar, Iridian Spectral Technologies. Reprinted from Photonics Spectra, January 2014.
The Air Force Aircrew Laser Eye Protection (ALEP) program. This unclassified document describes many of the characteristics of anti-laser glasses used by the Air Force. It does not list specific wavelengths or protection factors (e.g., optical density) as these are classified. From the abstract: “ It describes design criteria used in the development of laser protective devices, operational considerations, training, fit, inspection, maintenance and immediate response procedures to follow after suspected laser exposure. Procedures outlined in this document apply to all Air Force personnel….” Block 0, 0+ and 1 versions are discussed.
ALEP Program Status: The bottom half of slide 4, in an Air Force briefing about Aircrew Performance Programs. This has more information about ALEP Block 2.
Teledyne wins $7.7 million contract for 3,137 ALEP Block 2 spectacles. News item from February 3, 2012.