The laser induced ionization of ambient air is studied experimentally with laser pulses whose durations range from 50 fs up to 10 ps at 800 nm. It is found that the minimum pulse energy for detectable air ionization follows the scaling law of εth varies direct as tpx , with 0.23 < x < 0.5, and x tends to rise for longer pulses within the range of 50 fs - 500 fs. For laser pulses from 0.7 ps to 10 ps, however, x is approximately equal to 0.8. The dependence of the critical intensity for air ionization on the beam spot size is also examined with a variety of focused laser beam spot sizes in the experiments.© (2005) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.