Lightning strikes may seem like a rare occurrence, but they can actually be quite common.
With such a powerful force of nature, it begs the question—what happens if lightning strikes a plane?
While the chances of an aircraft being hit by lightning are relatively low, there’s still a risk and pilots must take certain precautions to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.
In this article, we’ll discuss what happens if lightning strikes a plane and how it can be prevented.
What are the potential dangers of lightning strikes on a plane?
There are several potential dangers associated with lightning strikes on an aircraft. These include:
Damage to the fuselage and other aircraft components
When lightning strikes an aircraft, the powerful electrical charge can cause damage to the fuselage and other aircraft components.
The aluminum skin of a plane is particularly susceptible to this type of damage as it acts like a conductor of electricity.
This can result in burns on the outer surface of the aircraft or even more serious structural damage.
It’s also possible for the electrical charge to create a spark that can ignite fuel lines or cause an explosion.
In addition, there is a risk of electrocution for anyone on board who might be touching parts of the fuselage when lightning strikes.
Electrical system disruption
In addition to physical damage, lightning strikes can also cause disruption in the electrical systems of an aircraft.
Lightning can induce an electrical surge that overloads the system, resulting in short circuits or component failure as a result.
This can interfere with navigation and communication systems, leaving the pilot unable to control the airplane or communicate with air traffic control.
It can also cause the avionics to malfunction, further increasing the chances of a crash.
When an aircraft is struck by lightning, it will experience airframe vibration.
This is caused by the sudden discharge of electrical energy generated by the strike, and it can cause structural damage to the plane.
The shock wave produced from a lightning strike is powerful enough to bend metal components such as wing spars and fuselages, potentially leading to loss of control or even a crash.
Additionally, airframe vibrations can cause mechanical components to become loose, further increasing the risk of a crash.
When lightning strikes an aircraft, it can also cause a spark that has the potential to ignite fuel lines or other combustible materials.
This can create a fire hazard and put passengers in danger of smoke inhalation or serious burns.
The risk of this occurring is relatively low, but it’s still important for pilots to take precautions and inspect the aircraft for any signs of fire or smoke.
Turbulence or loss of control
When lightning strikes an aircraft, it can cause sudden turbulence as the shockwave passes through the cabin.
This can disrupt the aircraft’s balance and throw off its flight path, potentially leading to a crash.
Additionally, if structural damage is caused by the strike, this can lead to a loss of control or other problems that can be hazardous to the aircraft.
How does an airplane protect itself from a strike?
There are numerous measures pilots and airlines take to protect an aircraft from a lightning strike, including:
1. Aircraft are designed with a lightning-dissipating structure that serves as a conductor for the electrical charge, allowing it to be dispersed safely.
2. Airplanes are equipped with an onboard lightning detector so pilots can take measures to avoid storms if possible.
3. Ground crews inspect the aircraft before and after a flight for any signs of damage from a lightning strike.
4. Airlines ensure their planes are well-grounded prior to taking off, as this helps reduce the chances of a strike.
5. Pilots must adhere to FAA regulations concerning weather conditions and avoid flying in severe storms if possible.
6. Airplanes are regularly maintained and serviced in order to ensure any lightning damage is detected and repaired.
7. Some airlines use a “lightning protection” system that uses special coatings or construction techniques to reduce the risk of a strike.
8. In some cases, pilots can fly at higher altitudes to try and avoid areas prone to lightning.
9. Aircraft may also be equipped with surge protectors and other devices specifically designed to protect against electrical surges associated with a strike.
How can pilots and crew prepare for lightning strikes?
Pilots and crew should take the necessary precautions to prepare for a lightning strike, including:
- Familiarize themselves with FAA regulations regarding weather conditions and take measures to avoid storms whenever possible.
- Understanding how their aircraft is equipped to handle a lightning strike.
- Checking the weather before each flight and monitoring any storms in the area.
- Educating passengers on what to do in the event of a strike.
- Inspect the plane before and after each flight for damage caused by lightning strikes.
- Ensuring that all aircraft systems are properly grounded and functioning correctly prior to takeoff.
- Implementing special procedures and protocols to protect against electrical surges in the event of a strike.
- Ensuring all passengers are properly secured in their seats during a storm, in case turbulence occurs as a result of a lightning strike.
- Providing fire safety information to passengers so they can prepare for any potential hazards caused by lightning strikes.
- Take extra care when flying in areas prone to lightning.
By taking the necessary precautions and understanding how their aircraft is designed to protect against a lightning strike, pilots can help ensure their passengers are safe during a flight, no matter what Mother Nature throws at them.
Lightning strikes can create serious safety risks for pilots and passengers if not taken seriously.
By adhering to FAA regulations, inspecting their planes for damage, and implementing appropriate safety measures, pilots and airlines can help ensure a safe flight in the event of a lightning strike. Additionally, educating passengers on what to do during a storm is paramount to reducing the risk of injury and damage. With these simple steps, pilots and passengers can confidently fly knowing they are protected against any potential hazards caused by a lightning strike.
Can a plane survive a lightning strike?
Yes, aircraft are designed to withstand lightning strikes and help protect pilots and passengers from any potential hazards. However, it is still important for pilots and airlines to take necessary precautions and inspect the plane for damage after a strike.
How often do planes get struck by lightning?
On average, most commercial airplane is struck by lightning at least once a year. That being said, the chances of a plane getting hit depend on several factors such as weather conditions, air traffic control routes, and other environmental factors.
Is it safe to fly in thunderstorms?
No, flying in thunderstorms is not recommended due to the risk of lightning strikes. Pilots should take all necessary precautions to monitor weather conditions and avoid storms whenever possible.