During flight, lightning strikes on aircraft is a daily occurrence around the world. This is most often caused by aircraft flying through a static charged cloud. Despite fears, there is often little to no damage caused by strikes, and aircraft are thoroughly inspected after the flight. With the many important components and combustible fuel that is present, aircraft are expertly engineered to provide the utmost protection against electric charges. In this article, we will give a short overview of how aircraft are protected against lighting.
To protect the aircraft, the fuselage and skin work together to create a conductive shield that acts similar to a Faraday cage. Faraday cages work to distribute electric charges and cancel the effect of the charges on the cage interior. Like these cages, gapless aluminum skin that is conductive is installed around the aircraft to ensure that lightning hits and exits all on the exterior. Lightning can sometimes produce transient charges underneath the skin, and thus equipment utilizes grounding, shielding, and surge suppression to remain unscathed. Parts that are critical to the aircraft’s functions also have to adhere to strict FAA lighting protection regulations.
The aircraft fuel system is a critical piece to protect due to the combustibility if met with a spark. To prevent this, the skin around these areas is made thick enough to avoid even a burnthrough due to a strike. Components must also be precisely installed and designed as to withstand lightning. Radar and flight instruments are another critical area to protect, and they are located in the radome which may be struck. Diverter strips are installed onto the surface and act like a building’s lightning rod, diverting the current away from the structure.
Airplane manufacturers are always looking for new ways to better protect aircraft, and even modern composite planes have been designed with conductive wires to prevent damage of strikes. Through the use of these various methods of engineering, aircraft have been able to be amply protected from strikes that are a daily occurence in aviation.
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