A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: 1-watt blue laser used for first time, in Glendale illumination

A 1-watt blue laser was aimed twice at a Glendale CA police helicopter on August 14 2011. 30-year-old Avo Garabedian was arrested by ground units directed to his location.

From La Canada Valley Sun

ADDITIONAL INFO: This is the first aviation incident in which it is confirmed that a 1-watt blue handheld laser was used. LaserPointerSafety.com has learned that Garabedian used a Wicked Lasers Spyder III Arctic. This was the first widely sold 1-watt blue handheld laser; it received significant worldwide press attention when it was introduced in June 2010.

Below are some additional facts and links about this type of laser.
  • 1 watt of power is 1000 milliwatts. In the U.S., lasers sold for pointing purposes are limited to 5 milliwatts. That means a 1 watt is 200 times more powerful than lasers sold as pointers.
  • A 1 watt laser is Class 4, the most hazardous laser safety classification. Class 4 lasers can cause instant eye injuries, skin burns, and can ignite some materials.
  • The 1-watt blue lasers being sold can be eye hazards to a distance of approximately 750 feet. That is, under ideal conditions of a non-moving beam, a person 750 feet away who is not behind glass or a windshield could have a spot or spots burned onto their retina. The closer the person is to the laser, the greater the chance of a burn. Also, the more “fixed” the exposure -- the more the laser and retina are motionless relative to each other -- the greater the chance of a burn.
  • However, when it comes to non-injurious visual hazards, a 1-watt 445 blue laser is equal to only a 35 milliwatt (0.035 watt) green laser. This means that afterimage, glare and distraction effects are only in the range of a 35 mW green laser. The reason is that the human eye is much less sensitive to 445 nm blue laser light, compared to common 532 nm green laser light. Said another way, a blue laser appears 29 times less bright to the human eye than a green laser of the same power.
  • Most laser/aviation incidents involve green lasers. During the first half of 2011, in 93% of incidents reported to the FAA, the pilot said he or she saw a green light. Blue light reports were less than 1% of incidents. The August 14 Glendale arrest is the first known time that such a powerful blue handheld laser has been confirmed to be used against an aircraft.
  • A Glendale police spokesperson noted that videos of 1-watt blue lasers show them igniting matches. “Just imagine what that could do to someone’s retinas”, he said. However, this is highly misleading for aviation incidents. In the videos, the matches are within a few inches of the laser device. The beam would not have the same effect on a pilot’s eye during an aviation incident where the laser device is hundreds or thousands of feet away. This is because 1) laser beams spread out over distance so the power density (irradiance) is greatly reduced, 2) it is nearly impossible to keep a laser fixed on one area of the cockpit window, and 3) a human naturally blinks after 1/4 second of exposure to a bright light. (Of course, no one should aim a laser of any power at or near an aircraft, no matter how low the chance of injurious or bright-light effects.)
  • The Wicked Laser Spyder III Arctic laser used in Glendale appears to meet or exceed all U.S. FDA safety requirements for a Class 4 laser. In short, the laser appears to be legal for sale, possession and use under Federal law.1 What was illegal, of course, was Garabedian aiming the laser at an aircraft.

More information can be found here:
A June 2010 alert about the hazards of 1-watt blue lasers
A review of the safety features and implications of the Wicked Lasers Spyder III Arctic
A worst-case hazard analysis of a 1-watt blue laser showing the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance (eye-damage), Sensitive Zone Exposure Distance (flashblindness), Critical Zone Exposure Distance (veiling glare), and Laser-Free Exposure Distance (distraction).
Laser colors seen by pilots (a subhead of the US Statistics article)

1Some at FDA may say the Wicked Lasers Spyder III Arctic is illegal for sale for one or both of these reasons: 1) FDA warned Wicked in November 2010 about past labeling and paperwork violations, so this model may be included in FDA’s import restrictions. 2) FDA has at times tried to argue that handheld lasers are “surveying, leveling or alignment lasers” and thus all handheld lasers above 5 mW can be regulated; LaserPointerSafety.com considers the first item to be a relatively minor paperwork issue, and the second item to be completely incorrect. Our larger point is that under current Federal law 1) anyone may own and operate for personal use a laser of any power and 2) a manufacturer may sell a laser of any power, as long as they truthfully certify to FDA that the laser meets U.S. safety requirements for its hazard Class. (One key exception: If a laser is called a “pointer” or is promoted for pointing purposes, then it is limited to 5 milliwatts.)