Laser drilling is increasingly becoming the method of choice for precision drilling of a variety of components, particularly in the aircraft industry. Notwithstanding the current level of acceptance of laser drilling in the aerospace industry, a number of defects such as spatter, recast and taper are associated with laser drilled holes and elimination of these defects is the subject of intense research. The present paper deals with Nd:YAG laser drilling of 4 and 8mm thick sections of IN718 and Ti-6Al-4V materials. The influence of type of material and its thickness, as well as parametric impact of key process variables like pulse frequency and pulse energy, have been determined. In the course of this study, relevant geometrical features of the drilled holes, like hole diameter and taper angle, have been comprehensively investigated. In addition, all metallurgical characteristics of interest, viz extent and nature of spatter, recast and heat-affected zone, have been evaluated. Effort has also been made to obtain some insights into the evolution of a through-thickness hole during laser percussion drilling of thick sections by careful experimentation involving monitoring the progression of the drilled hole with increasing number of laser pulses. Issues pertaining to variation of taper with depth of hole, change in crater depth with progressive drilling and specific energy consumption are also discussed. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.