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Blackhawk Possibly Used Laser To Discourage Cameras

I videotaped both the YO and Parkrose demonstrations - and had a rather interesting experience while doing so.
Shortly after the burgeoning crowd of demonstrators moved to the basketball area, what appeared to be a Sikorsky MH-60G Pavehawk helicopter (possibly from the Portland Air National Guard) began flying menacingly overhead. I have never attended a demonstration where a military helicopter was visible. Police and media, yes - military, no. [Please note that the mission of the Pavehawk is special operations and combat search and rescue. They "come standard" with 7.62mm guns.]

The helicopter made several passes around and over the park, its long refueling probe and forward looking infra-red (FLIR) pod visible on the nose. The port side door was open and some onboard personnel could be seen inside. Considering the intimidation this helicopter was meant to elicit, it obviously warranted documentation. For the most part I chose to use my camera's optical viewfinder - as opposed to the LCD screen - to conserve battery power.

I moved to a slight hill before the Pavehawk executed a low, lazy pass over the park, approximately above the covered basketball courts. As I zoomed in close on the helicopter I felt a sudden discomfort in my right eye - the eye pressed up against the viewfinder. I quickly moved the camera away from my face, blinking my eyes, and for about 10 seconds my right eye would not focus. It quickly returned to normal, but I had no doubt something from the helicopter had caused it.

I did not really feel any pain, but as I said there was distinct discomfort. I have never experienced this sensation using this or any other camera (photography is a hobby of mine). At the time the sensation occured I was zoomed in quite tight on the Pavehawk, on the port side, the side with the open door.

[Others have mentioned there was a red light visible through that door, but from my military experience that is likely a status light of some type (i.e. open door indicator), or a navigation light (red is for left side, green if for right).]

After that little "waker upper" I used my LCD screen for further shots of the helicopter, and I never experienced that discomfort again (though I used the optical viewfinder for most of the day). If this helicopter was a special operations Pavehawk it could be equipped with various laser counter-measures that special operations squadrons need in hostile environments. However, I saw nothing to prove that what I experienced was an intentional act.

Following several incidents in 1997 and 1998, US military helicopter crews are now issued special glasses or goggles to protect against eye injuries caused by lasers. However, people on the ground are vulnerable to the lasers used on military aircraft and fighting vehicles. According to a November, 1998, VOA report:

JOHN PIKE STUDIES STRATEGIC ISSUES FOR THE FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS. HE SAYS FOUR THOUSAND IRANIAN SOLDIERS SUFFERED EYE INJURIES, INCLUDING BLINDNESS, WHEN IRAQI FORCES SWEPT POWERFUL LASERS ACROSS THEIR RANKS DURING THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR.

LASERS ARE USED BY MANY NATIONS, INCLUDING THE UNITED STATES, IN TANKS, ANTI-AIRCRAFT WEAPONS AND TO DISRUPT ELECTRONIC DEVICES. MR. PIKE SAYS RECENT TREATIES LABELED WEAPONS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO BLIND SOLDIERS AS 'INHUMANE' AND BANNED THEIR USE. BUT HE SAYS WITH SO MANY LASERS PLAYING SO MANY BATTLEFIELD ROLES, IT WILL BE DIFFICULT TO ENFORCE THE BAN ON THESE WEAPONS.

We do know that military aircraft are equipped with various laser devices that collect information and read terrain (specifically, range finders and laser image mapping). I may have accidentally caught some of that as the Pavehawk's onboard computer systems were scanning the ground. Then again, it may have been intentional to discourage the dozens of cameras aimed at the helicopter. In the present political environment and crackdown on dissent, the illegal use of laser countermeasures on peaceful protest can't be discounted. As a result, I would recommend that at no time should someone use an optical viewfinder to film military or law enforcement aircraft.

Though I would not put it past them 07.Jan.2002 11:00

Earnst Miesner

It sounds like a BS post to make people more fearful.

From author of the published piece.... 07.Jan.2002 12:44

Mike Mike

I can understand the skepticism but the information I gave was not intended to frighten, only to inform. Though it may affect credibility, I did not reveal my full name and personal information because my experience is the story - beyond that I did not want to make myself a part of it. (To see me with my camera look at the "finally, Photos... " post: I am the guy holding the "Hail to the Thief" sign.)

The facts about the Pavehawk and special operations are readily available in the library or on the web. Here is a link to the VOA article I quoted:  http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/ccw/news/981104-laser.htm

As I said, I was not in pain, but I experienced enough discomfort to take notice. In my title I wrote, "... possibly used... " and in my last paragraph I think I summed up the possibilities quite well.

Furthermore, if the helicopter used on Saturday is regularly assigned to presidential details, for obvious reasons it would contain several scanning and counter-measure systems. Considering that fighter planes and AWACS are flying over D.C. at all times now, the idea of a Pavehawk protecting Bush when he travels doesn't sound strange to me.

Now, if you want to read something that is REALLY scary, read the articles in New Scientist magazine about the microwave crowd control device that the Air Force Research Laboratory is building. It burns human skin to a depth of .03mm and is hoped to be mounted on airborne platforms (e.g. helicopters). The military claims this device will be safe because the extreme pain it inflicts will force people to flee before any injury can occur.

What about your film (or tape) ? 07.Jan.2002 17:02

The Shnoz

If you were filming when you experienced this sensation, did the film or recording show any artifacts suggesting an intense light source?

Also, assuming that you were using a video camera (since you had an LCD viewfinder), most CCD video cams have some infrared sensitivity as well as visible light. A laser striking the cam lens should show as a bright spot on the video. Even an invisible infrared laser should become visible in the recording or your video viewfinder.

Did you experience anything like that?

laser eye damage 08.Jan.2002 10:09

George

Mike^2 - Thanks for the research & observations. With your video camera, what you see through the eyepiece is a mini-CRT, not a direct view into the scene. The energy recieved by your eye is gated by what the CRT can deliver, it acts as a filter to what comes in through the lens.

Laser light falling on the camera CCD would wreak havoc with the automatic exposure control... Maybe what was bothering your eye was a result of that, I don't know much about how everything interacts. At some point, the CCD (image sensor in the video camera) would be damaged by an intense laser, but that may be much higher than eye damage threshold. Heck, if you've got infrared autofocus that could be thrown for a loop too.

After considering your post though, I'd be very careful using a camera with a direct view of the scene (mostly an SLR w/zoom). Although the effects of lasers on eyes are very well known and understood and regulated and pretty respected, under tense circumstances "operator error" could cause inadvertent exposure of a crowd to damaging laser radiation if the laser sources are there.

From author.... 08.Jan.2002 19:40

Mike Mike

Thanks for the responses - if only our whole society could be so democratic!

You might have a point about the CCD filtering factor. I watched the video last night and could not determine any artifacts, though my camera and TV aren't of the highest resolution. From what I can tell a laser beam itself would not be visible, but a white blemish or mark would probably be visible on tape. At the time this event occurred I may have pulled my eye away from the viewfinder to acquire the helicopter as it moved - it's hard to tell from the video.

One thing for certain, I would NEVER use a non-CCD viewfinder to photograph this type of aircraft. Even the weakest lasers on the retina can cause some injury.

Non-laser incident 09.Jan.2002 11:51

baaddog

I personally know the person that was sitting at the port (you must have been in the Navy?) window on the blackhawk helicopter that day. Pretty soon he will be able to stop laughing about your article but is restricted from making any comments due to military policy.

He did tell me that he is proud to be a part of an organization that provides American citizens the opportunity to openly express their opinions. Crowd control had nothing to do with their presence that day.

Regards,

Baaddog

Quit bumping your eye with the camera lens! 09.Jan.2002 13:05

A Man In Black

First of all, Bush..., PRESIDENT BUSH won! Learn some respect and get over it. Second, the chopper you saw was dispatched to block you from filming our 300 foot cigar shaped UFO which had warp core problems that day. Lastly, if I had decided to fire my disruptors at you, you would have been disintergrated. You obviously watch too many X-files reruns dude. Next time, maybe instead of trying to film the chopper, you should pay attention to how close you get to the downdraft of air so your camera doesn't hit you in the head. We already have enough people with head injuries in this country protesting our President.

Love,
Mongo
Romulan Force Commander
Earth Division

I'm not laughing 12.Jan.2002 07:41

JoeBob

Baaddog, perhaps you can point out what is so laughable here? It seems you would not be bound by so-called "military policy."


You are right! 15.Jan.2002 11:37

Baaddog

My friend confirms it was more ironic than funny. He has spent the majority of his air force career doing rescue work, ... many of them civilian from the local area. They were obviously asked to protect the president that day by looking at the roof tops of local buildings, etc. And the very people he has been proud to serve are giving him the finger and waving angry signs at him. Then accusing him of firing lasers at them. Gosh, ... what did he do next?

He said he just waved back because he felt it is better to set a positive professional example.