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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Zapping Common Sense

By Andrew Parker, Editor

Laser pointers are becoming more of a danger to helicopters and low-flying aircraft everywhere. New reports are popping up weekly where helicopter pilots are getting ‘lazed’—just a few examples from mid-April as we went to press include: a 13-year-old in Rockville, Md. being charged for shining a laser at a Maryland State Police helicopter; a man receiving almost three years in prison for a laser incident involving a Philadelphia police helicopter; investigation of a laser pointed at a news helicopter in Santa Monica, Calif.; and police and military helos getting ‘the shining’ in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and North Shields, UK.

Fortunately, as Editor-at-Large Ernie Stephens reports, permanent eye damage to the pilot does not result from being lazed. But that shouldn’t be used as a reason to dismiss the potential dangers to the pilot and any passengers onboard, not to mention the multimillion-dollar flying machines, some of which are funded with taxpayer money. The U.S. House and Senate passed H.R. 368 (below) in early 2011 to make it a federal crime to point a laser at an aircraft. This is on top of various state and local restrictions already on the books in the U.S. and internationally.

But is enforcement enough to solve the problem? I asked users of our Facebook page to weigh in about how they would address the issue, and received some interesting responses.

One person suggested charging people with attempted murder instead of ‘interfering with an aircraft.’ Another said that banning lasers altogether was the appropriate step. A couple people suggested a visor or film treatment on the windshield that blocks the beam, similar to what the military uses. Another reader summed up my views on the issue pretty well: “I do not think it matters what kind of punishment is threatened. Morons are morons. … Of course those caught should have a laser shined in their eyes while driving. A little reeducation.”

Let’s hope that with H.R. 368 becoming law and increased public awareness of laser dangers, that attacks against helicopters will decrease.

How would you address the problem of laser pointers being shined at helicopters? Send your comments to: editor@rotorandwing.com

Ode to Charlie

I had the unique opportunity during Heli-Expo to sit down with four top executives from Kaman Aerospace Corp. to talk about company founder Charles H. Kaman, who passed away earlier this year at age 91. Check out the full story.

A true pioneer not just in the helicopter industry, Kaman represents one of the last of his breed—an inventor and engineer at the heart of running a company. Today’s top executives are mostly businessmen first who look to engineers, other technical types and teams of people to come up with new products and services. Add to this the fact that there aren’t many truly new “inventions” coming out of the helicopter industry these days—many are reworked or modified versions of existing products—and you appreciate the type of individual he was. Kaman belongs with the likes of Igor Sikorsky, Frank Piasecki, Frank Robinson and others who helped shape the future of the rotorcraft industry in its early years. In today’s world of specialized professions, how many people can really claim game-changing inventions in multiple industries?

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