What happens if lightning strikes a plane

Posted on May 2, 2022      43

Being struck by lightning on an airplane is an emergency and can have certain consequences under several circumstances

Being struck by lightning on an airplane is a fairly rare occurrence in modern aviation. Usually, according to safety instructions, pilots are forbidden to drive a plane into a thunderstorm front; the machine must go around a thunderstorm cloud on the right or left, but never from below. Otherwise, lightning will strike it. According to expert statistics, lightning strikes airplanes 1-2 times a year, if the airliner is operated regularly. But today it rarely leads to serious consequences.

The first mention of a lightning-related aviation accident dates back to 1929. The first flight accident described was the crash of a Curtiss C-46 U.S. Air Force transport aircraft on 14 June 1945 en route to Dallas Jackson, Mississippi. Lightning struck the wing at an altitude of about 1 kilometer. As a result, the plane could not maintain altitude and fell into the woods.

And one of the most severe accidents caused by lightning is called a plane crash in the U.S. state of Maryland on December 8, 1969. Then the reserve fuel tank was damaged, the plane burst into flames, killing 82 people. After this tragedy, changes were made to the design of the planes.

A lightning discharge takes the path of least resistance so that if it strikes an aircraft, it passes through the metal plate without penetrating and striking any important equipment. To do this, the sheathing sheets have to fit tightly together.

If composite materials are used, they are covered with a layer of conductive copper foil mesh. To protect against the strong electromagnetic radiation that occurs when lightning strikes, onboard systems were covered with copper mesh. And to prevent the fuel tanks from igniting when struck by lightning, they are filled with an inert gas as the fuel is produced. Finally, to reduce the chance of encountering celestial electricity, electrostatic dischargers are installed on the ends of the wings, from which the static charge drains into the air. This ensures that the airframe always remains neutrally charged and does not attract the attention of lightning. If it hits it, it is most likely to come out of it from the arrester.

At the moment, fleets of almost all countries have modern airliners that are well protected against lightning.

Planes are tested for resistance to considerable electromagnetic power. They can withstand almost any lightning and level of turbulence. If lightning strikes an airplane, neither the passengers nor the crew will be harmed. There may only be a minor shaking of the machine, minor damage to the hull, and damage to the radio and electrical equipment, which are always duplicated on each board.

And yet, despite an effective full range of protection, aircraft, even of new construction, may not enter a lightning front. And if a plane gets struck by lightning during flight, it is carefully inspected after landing to make sure the hull plating is intact.

So, in the modern world, modern airliners are not afraid of being struck by lightning. This is because of the presence of many design solutions that protect the aircraft. Despite the world statistics, which states that during the 15 years of use of each airliner that regularly flies, lightning strikes it at least 15 times. The odds of dying in a plane crash because of a lightning strike are negligible.