What Happens When a Plane Is Struck by Lightning?

Every so often, you’ll read about a dramatic story of someone being struck by lightning. And while the story might certainly have been dramatized, the actual chances of anyone getting struck by lightning are extremely low. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000. You might be surprised to hear that lightning has struck aircraft slightly more frequently than it has people. It is estimated that on average, each airplane in the U.S. commercial fleet is struck lightly by lightning more than once each year. The difference here is that modern aircraft have been designed to take such lightning hits without having its flight influenced. Read on below for details of what actually happens when lightning strikes a plane.

The most important information that you can take away from this article? It is completely safe to fly in an aircraft during a lightning storm. As aircraft can often trigger lightning when flying through a heavily charged region in clouds, commercial aircraft are engineered so that they can withstand these hits. If the plane has been exposed to lightning, the plane will undergo inspection by aircraft maintenance personnel after it has landed. These inspections, which will look closely at electrical parts and aircraft fuselage parts, tend to go smoothly as aircraft often go unharmed or sustain very minimal damage.

When lightning does strike, it typically hits the wingtip, nose, or other sharp edge of the plane, where it then exits the body via the aircraft tail. This was designed so that the aircraft’s body, or fuselage, acts as a cage to block electromagnetic fields. Electric charges and energy from the lightning arc run through the outside of the aircraft while the inside is protected from any voltage.


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