Aircraft

Liquid crystal windshields could protect pilots from laser pointers

Liquid crystal windshields cou...
According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, there were 6,754 laser-pointer strikes on aircraft in 2017
According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, there were 6,754 laser-pointer strikes on aircraft in 2017
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According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, there were 6,754 laser-pointer strikes on aircraft in 2017
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According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, there were 6,754 laser-pointer strikes on aircraft in 2017

Some people apparently think it's funny to shine laser pointers at aircraft that are taking off or landing. Unfortunately, though, the glare of the laser beams can temporarily blind pilots, potentially leading to crashes. Installed in planes' windshields, new liquid crystal technology could keep that from happening.

Although scientists have previously tried to develop laser-pointer countermeasures for aircraft, they've been challenged by the fact that the pointers can emit beams of different wavelengths – we see those as different laser colors, such as red, green or blue. Most of the systems created so far have only been capable of blocking one wavelength.

Based out of Illinois' Lewis University, a team led by Dr. Jason Keleher set out to improve upon that state of affairs. The researchers started with a solution of liquid crystals, known as N-(4-methoxybenzylidene)-4-butylaniline. It's called MBBA for short.

In lab tests, the solution was placed between two 1-inch (25-mm)-square panes of glass. It started out in a transparent liquid state, but when voltage was applied, the crystals aligned with the electrical field, causing it to temporarily shift to an opaque crystalline state. Once that phase-change had occurred, the MBBA was capable of blocking up to 95 percent of red, green and blue laser light. It was able to do so partly by scattering the light, partly by absorbing the laser energy, and partly through the process of cross-polarization.

Additionally, the change was triggered by the lasers. When an integrated photoresistor detected the laser light, the system automatically applied voltage to the MBBA, turning it opaque. As soon as the laser ceased, the voltage was shut off, and the solution became clear again.

The scientists are now working on scaling their model up to the size of a full aircraft windshield. Plans call for that windshield to integrate an array of individual MBBA panels, so that only the parts of the glass that were directly hit by a laser beam would go opaque. The team will also be trying different types of liquid crystal solutions, which may offer even better performance.

Keleher and colleagues are presenting their research this Monday, at the American Chemical Society Spring 2019 National Meeting and Exposition.

Source: American Chemical Society via EurekAlert

6 comments
Nik
I cant see their difficulties! My arc welding mask, has a lens that instantly reduces excess light, of ANY frequency, down to an acceptable level. I'm sure that with a very little thought, this could be adapted into a visor for the pilot to wear during takeoff and landing, at very little cost, compared to an aircraft windscreen. After all it would only be required for a few minutes of the flight. Alternatively, a sort of pull down sun-visor version, as used in cars, could be used. So converting a whole aircraft windscreen seems a like gross overkill. {KISS!} The engineers motto, ''keep it simple, stup!d!
highlandboy
#Nic, welding masks reduce all light which is illuminating what you are looking at. Laser light illuminates nothing, but can blind when shone in the eyes. If one were to reduce light to the extent that laser directed at the pilots could do no damage the pilot would be flying blind in low light situations.
Nik
highlandboy; The text says; ''....causing it to temporarily shift to an OPAQUE crystalline state.'' So, it totally blocks light, Whereas, welding masks reduces light to an acceptable level, so some vision is still maintained. An alternative solution might be to use ''one way glass'' which would be mirrored on its outer surface. This would just reflect most of the laser away, whilst still allowing vision from inside the cockpit. The problem only occurs at take off and landing, so a visor during take of or landing would seem the simplest solution.
dwreid
Sounds to me like a jerk with a laser could just black out the windows and keep them black while a pilot was trying to take-off or land. Is this a good idea?
JeffK
One way glass requires that the area being viewed is brighter than the area from which the viewing is done. It would work during the day, but lasers are typically used at night so they can be aimed easily. It also significantly reduces the amount of light passing through, even in daylight. While there are very sophisticated computer controlled landing systems, restricting pilot vision at any time, especially at night, is sub-optimal.
The ability of this LCD system to operate autonomously rather than relying on a separate system for activation is extremely valuable as a software glitch won't sideline it. Pilots are very busy during landing and takeoff, a manually activated sun visor as in a car is a bridge too far. Think about the last time you were driving and suddenly had to flip down the sun visor, pull it from the retaining clip and pivot it to shade the side window without hitting your own head and still stay on the road. Now imagine piloting a Boeing 767-400ER with a max takeoff weight of 204,000 kg and 375 passengers.
Cost is irrelevant when compared to the human lives at risk, not to mention the $200 million plus investment in the aircraft.
Towerman
They should fit laser resistant windshields standard in all airliners as of right now and onwards, it's just a logical and critical upgrade.