MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Lightning and airplanes sound like a deadly recipe, but technology and advancements in aviation mean that airplanes can withstand a lightning strike and still arrive safely to the destination.
On average, it is estimated that lightning hits each aircraft once a year, or once per every 1,000 hours of flight time. Yet, lightning hasn’t brought down a plane since the year 1963.
Airplane manufactures design the metal bird in the sky to withstand hundreds of thousands of amperes of electricity – which is far more electricity than a lightning bolt can deliver.
The first round of defense is that the airplanes fuel tanks and fuel lines are fully encased so that it is almost impossible for a lightning spark to trigger a fuel explosion.
The airplane’s skin, which is aluminum in older planes and a composite in more modern planes, is designed to conduct electricity off the plane.
When the nearly 200,000 amperes of electricity are rocketing into the plane’s skin, the electricity flows around the outer surface of the plane’s frame and then jumps back into the air, thanks to a little antenna-like devices called static wicks.
Usually there is no signs that a plane was struck by lightning at all, but if there is any evidence of a lightning strike, it is usually minimal damage to wing tips or the tail, which can act as lightning rods, or seen as small entrance and exit marks.
If a plane is struck, they are checked by the ground crews and usually quickly cleared for its next voyage.
Aeronautical engineering makes modern planes practically lightning-proof, thanks to advances in radar technology which have made it easier for pilots to avoid thunderstorms all together.