PURPOSE. As a result of a laser show illumination of a commercial aircraft, the National Safety Transportation Board made a recommendation for a simulator experiment to examine the effects of laser exposures to pilots. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) G-10 committee formed a Laser Interference Technical Design Working Group with representatives from the FAA, DOD, FDA, and the laser industry to design and conduct an experiment. The purpose of this experiment was to evaluate the effect of low-power laser illumination as a detriment to acceptable pilot performance during terminal area operations. Specifically, the experiment sought to validate the FAA guideline for limiting laser exposure of pilots to 5 uW/cm2 in the critical flight zone around airports. METHOD. Pilot performance in the full-motion FAA Boeing 727-200, Level C simulator with and without 532 green laser exposures, was assessed. Each subject was given a series of 1-second laser illuminations while performing takeoff, final turn to intercept, and approach to landing maneuvers. Laser exposure levels were a control of 0.0 uW/cm2, 0.5 uW/cm2, 5.0 uW/cm2, and 50.0 uW/cm2. Each subject completed pre-flight and post-flight questionnaires. Performance data was collected and video recordings were made on each subject. A total of 38 volunteer test subjects, ranging in age from 22 to 69 years of age participated.
RESULTS. A green laser exposure level of 50 uW/cm2 was very effective in producing laser glare but did not produce significant flashblindness. Three approaches at 50 uW/cm2 were missed. An exposure level of 5 uW/cm2 was found to be an annoyance and an exposure level of 0.5 uW/cm2 was tolerable.
CONCLUSIONS. The three missed approaches at 50 uW/cm2 validate the need for the 5 uW/cm2 laser exposure limit in terminal area operational airspace. Laser operations around airports should be controlled.