JUL 25, 2018 6:26 PM PDT

How Dangerous is a Lightning Strike to an Airplane?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Lightning frequently strikes airplanes as they fly through the clouds thousands of feet above the Earth’s surface, but is there any reason for airplane passengers to be alarmed about that? The short answer is: no.

When lightning strikes an airplane, it typically travels from the nose of the aircraft to the tail and then exits back into the atmosphere. A conductive aluminum coating on the surface of the airplane helps to guide the electricity along the outside of the spacecraft to keep passengers and critical internal components safe.

The only part of the plane that doesn’t have this coating is the nose, and this is because radar signals coming from the instruments inside need to be able to permeate the plane’s surface layer. The parts surrounding the fuel tanks are reinforced with extra aluminum to prevent any sparks from igniting the highly-flammable fuel.

Stringent testing occurs before airplanes are ever deemed “flight-worthy,” and lightning hasn’t downed an aircraft since the 1960’s. With that in mind, you shouldn’t worry too much about lightning striking your airplane. Turbulence from a storm is more likely to cause a ruckus than the lightning itself.

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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