How Does Aircraft Lightning Protection Work?

Posted 3 years ago in BUSINESS.

In this post you are going to learn more about why lightning protection system is really important and hw does it work.

How Does Aircraft Lightning Protection Work?

Aircraft lightning protection prevents passengers from realizing their plane was hit, but how does it work? Is there lightning protection for ground operations? Are there any limitations on aircraft lightning protection? This blog is your one-way ticket to the answers to these questions and more. Prepare for takeoff and keep your eyes on this page until we safely conclude.

Planes Falling Lightning:

Before getting into aircraft lightning protection system, it is necessary to know precisely why it exists, because as we know that these tools, systems and policies are required because lightning often strikes both in the air and on the ground.

Lightning is Common:

At any given time, approximately 100 lightning strikes are occurring around the world. Lightning is a daily occurrence on planet earth. And although about 80% of those impacts remain in the clouds (cloud lightning), they still pose a risk to airborne objects, such as aeroplanes.

So how often does lightning strike aeroplanes? For commercial aircraft, the answer to that question is about once a year. Maybe you think that this is a huge number, but the thing is, it's the truth! The Federal Aviation Association of the United States (FAA) estimates that lightning strikes a commercial aircraft once every 1,000 flight miles.

Most of these attacks cause little or no damage, and passengers do not even know what happened. There are times when lightning damages aeroplanes, but it is certainly not the norm.

Where Does Lightning Strike:

No matter if your plane is on the ground or in the air. Lightning usually falls through one of four external locations:

  • Wing
  • Tip
  • Nose
  • Rudder

While lightning can occur on the ground, a survey of US commercial aircraft showed that the majority of lightning occurs between altitudes of 5,000 to 15,000 feet. Most lightning strike aircraft incidents also occur when the aircraft is in the same cloud as the lightning strike, rather than below, above, or to the side of the cloud.

Aeroplanes are also the perfect target on the ground. Airports are large, open spaces. Often, the rudder will attract lightning, which can then pose a threat to the aircraft and nearby ground crew members.

Aircraft Lightning Protection:

Why don't most people know when lightning strikes their plane while in the air? It all comes down to lightning protection built into aircraft in the form of metal.

Most aeroplanes have a thick outer metal that is thick enough to resist lightning.

The thick outer metal prevents electromagnetic energy from lightning from entering critical spaces, including:

  • Aircraft interior
  • Electric cables

Sometimes a little electromagnetic energy enters electrical cables, but it is usually not enough to reduce the power to a dangerous level.

Commercial aircraft suppliers also implement additional lightning protection measures in the areas most likely to hit, such as the nose, nose, rudder and wings. Standard commercial aircraft lightning protection methods other than metal frame include:

Avionics protection and flight control, Conductive meshes. Let's divert our flight and talk about these two methods of lightning protection for aircraft.

Avionics and Flight Control:

Lightning can quickly destroy avionics and flight control systems, even with thick metal exteriors. Because it is not like that? Nowadays, all the engineers install effective surge protection devices around these systems with shielded cabling around the aircraft.

Engineers use other lightning protection measures to prevent a surge, such as adequately grounded wingtip lights.

Conductive Meshes:

Engineers use conductive mesh to help minimize damage to the aircraft skin. These screens also help prevent the build-up of electrical current in any area. Carbon fibre, fibreglass, aluminium, and copper are commonly used in this protective mesh as thin as a window screen. Pretty good, right.

Aircraft Lightning Protection on the Ground:

But what happens when lightning strikes a plane on the ground directly? While these types aircraft lightning protection systems continue to function while aircraft is on the ground at an airport, lightning striking the aircraft on the ground is not the actual risk. When it comes to the risk of lightning at airports, ground crew members are most at risk.

While engineers design aeroplanes to withstand the force of most lightning strikes, ground crew members are often left unprotected. Fortunately, there are tools, systems, and protocols available to airport operations to protect these vital members of your crew.

Ground Crew Lightning Protection:

The best way to protect ground personnel from lightning is with a total lightning detection system.

The right lighting solution for security and general operations has a three-step approach:

  1. Detect
  2. Alert
  3. Protect

Lightning safety at airports begins with accurate detection of total lightning, which is the combination of cloud and cloud-to-ground impacts. While cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are the only ones that can injure people on the ground at airports, lightning in clouds is a dangerous precursor to severe weather conditions such as microburst's, hail, and tornadoes.

Once airports, airlines, and fixed-base operators (FBOs) have reliable detection systems in place, they must be able to alert the right people. In a busy airport, alert technologies may be different for different stakeholders.

For example, ground crews refuelling the aircraft will better receive alerts via a strobe light rather than a simple text query. Similarly, we also know that air traffic control would better benefit from a real-time ray map.

Finally, if you can manage these two areas well, it is time to protect ground personnel from lightning with detailed and practised safety procedures. Airport security lightning policies should describe how to protect infrastructure at risk and move personnel to safety quickly.

Bonus: For more information related to the earthing & lightning protection system you can check bellow:

9 Tips To Know About Surge Protection Devices

Benefits of Whole-House Surge Protection