What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Plane

What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Plane

It was a cold rainy day in October of 2016.
Huge balls of hail crashed into the ground. In short, it wasn’t a good day to fly, and
Wow Air Flight 404 headed from Reykjavík, Iceland to Paris, France would soon understand
why… That iconic fuchsia-colored plane was struck
by a massive bolt of lightning not long after taking off! But did she go down? You’d think
so given that a single lightning bolt carries 1 billion volts of electric force with it.
That’s enough to power a 60-watt lightbulb for half a year! But it doesn’t end there! Lightning is 5
times hotter than the surface of the sun, so when it strikes, the air around the bolt
heats up faster than the speed of sound. The result: an ear-shattering crack of thunder
that sounds more like a nearby explosion. And they don’t call it lightning for nothing
– the light is almost blinding when you’re dangerously close to a strike. Hey, speaking
of which, what’s the craziest weather you’ve ever seen? Let me know down in the comments! Anyway, lightning is one powerful force of
Mother Nature. So just imagine being on a flight and all that happening to the plane!?
I’m almost too afraid to find out what the damage would look like. An exterior burnt
black like a piece of coal? A shredded fuselage? A fire on board? No, nope, and negative. Surprisingly,
lightning doesn’t do much damage to aircraft! For one thing, lightning doesn’t hit airplanes
that often these days. Security rules don’t allow pilots to fly into a storm front. The
plane should go around a thundercloud but never above or under it. First of all, they
don’t usually fly over them since the cloud tops can rise too high. And if they fly below
it, lightning will hit the plane for sure. I mean, it’s a hunk of pure metal moving
through the air – what would you expect!? But they’re able to avoid storms thanks
to special onboard weather radars. Ok, but if a lightning strike doesn’t bring
a plane down or do any threatening damage, then why do they avoid storms? Well, it’s
not because of the lightning itself but extreme turbulence that might happen inside a storm.
Turbulence can cause serious troubles, including loss of control over the aircraft. The shaking
can also cause heavy bags to fall out of the overhead bins and possibly hurt someone. That’s
why the rule is that planes should never get closer than 20 miles to the center of a storm.
It’s marked red on the radar. Sometimes pilots have to diverge from the route for
dozens of miles just to avoid this heavy turbulence! As it is now, with the existing safety rules
in place, lightning hits a plane 1-2 times a year if the aircraft is used regularly.
But even then, it doesn’t usually lead to any serious circumstances. Pilots can face
lightning strikes once every 3,000 hours in the air. That’s about one time in several
years of working in commercial aviation. Passengers spend much less time in the air, so it’s
highly unlikely that they’ll board the plane and go through what those folks headed from
Iceland to France got to witness! Out of 3,000 plane-related incidents since
2000, only 8 of them were caused by lightning strikes. Ok, that one’s clear. It’s not as if lightning
hits airplanes daily. But when it does strike, how are jumbo jets protected from it? Retired pilot Chris Hammond explains that
before an aircraft goes into service, it gets tested for all possible incidents. That includes
a lightning strike simulation. When they just started using composite materials for the
plane’s skin (switching from the old aluminum exteriors), they would fly into storm clouds
on purpose to make sure that the new material is just as safe. As Hammond says, the pictures and videos of
that Iceland lightning strike show exactly how everything should work. The bolt usually
hits the plane in the area of its nose and leaves near the tail and partially through
the wings. It does that because it chooses the path of least resistance. Like between
me and the cookie jar. Rather, it goes along the plane’s metal skin but doesn’t get
inside or damage any important parts. Now that planes are covered not with pure
aluminum but with composite materials, they get a special layer of a conductive mesh made
from copper foil. The mesh looks like an electrically conductive canvass covering the plane’s
skin. In short, the aircraft becomes one giant Faraday cage. That’s a special mechanism
that English physicist and inventor Michael Faraday created way back in 1836 to protect
devices from electromagnetic radiation. The cage is still used for the same purpose and
works quite simply. When an outer electromagnetic field acts upon the cage, free electrons in
its metal start moving. That charge gets redistributed around the cage’s exterior and cancels any
radiation that tries to get to the interior. But protecting airplanes from lightning doesn’t
end with the exterior materials. The internal systems and cables are also covered with copper
meshes. The fuel tanks get filled with a neutral gas so that they don’t catch on fire. And
finally, to lower the chances of coming into a lightning bolt’s path, there are special
static eliminators installed at the wings’ edges. Static discharge flows off them and
out into the air. Thanks to that, the plane always stays neutrally charged and doesn’t
attract lightning in the first place. In case lightning does hit, it’ll likely leave through
the static eliminator. Some minor damage to the skin, radio, or electronic
devices might happen. But that’s not really an urgent issue since all the critical devices
are duplicated on board each plane. But like I said, even aircraft of the newest
designs are forbidden to fly into a storm front. After all, 96% of all cases, even if
they are rare, happen when the plane is inside a storm cloud. If a strike did happen, pilots
check all the systems. If anything goes wrong, they land the plane at the nearest airport
on the way. As for the case of those passengers on board that Wow flight, the aircraft just
continued on to its destination and landed safely in Paris 3½ hours later! Gee did the
passengers all say “Wow”? And if that doesn’t convince you, in 2015, a different
plane flying from Reykjavik got struck by lightning and made it all the way to its destination
in Denver, Colorado! I think the takeaway here is, to avoid lightning hitting your plane,
don’t fly out of Reykjavik. Am I wrong? Of course, even if the flight makes it to
the destination and everything seems ok, technicians still carefully examine the aircraft once
it’s on the ground to see if there’s any micro damage to its skin. Spots where the
lightning entered and exited the plane’s exterior usually look like small melted holes
no more than half an inch in diameter. They can be fixed very quickly. Sounds easy enough, but airlines lose millions
of dollars because of flight delays caused by these safety measures. At least now you
know that sometimes you have to wait longer for a good reason! But can passengers notice anything on board
during this impromptu light show? Sure, you can hear a loud strike and see flashes outside
the plane. The aircraft might even shake a bit with all that energy and force going on
outside. But this is a standard situation that poses no danger for the flight. Lightning
usually looks more frightening when you see it on the ground and not on board the plane. Hammond, as an experience pilot himself, recalls
that at the beginning of his career, lightning struck his plane as he was coming into San
Francisco. The cockpit went black as all the monitors shut down. Sounds terrifying, right?
Luckily, like all airplanes, his was equipped with analog flight control devices. While
the systems were coming back to life, Hammond managed to land the aircraft manually. Talk
about skill and keeping a cool head! Now you know that lightning is not a problem
in modern aviation. A lot of design solutions protect airplanes from any severe damage,
and the risk of getting into an accident caused by lightning is next to zero. In fact, the
biggest risk caused by a lightning strike (other than any turbulence going on out in
that storm) is that passengers who notice it can get scared and start panicking. But
now you know there’s no need for that, so keep calm and fly safe! Or do what I do, and hide in the bathroom…
nah, just kidding. If you learned something new today, then give
the video a like and share it with a friend! And here are some other cool videos I think
you’ll enjoy. Just click to the left or right, and stay on the Bright Side of life!

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100 Replies to “What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Plane”

  1. This is a long video for nothing. In short: if lightning hits your plane you will be safe as the plane is made out of metal and the lightning will bounce off of it.

  2. There is lightning outside right at this moment HOW IRONIC


  3. I live in turkey im so scared beacause it ligth everyday almost its so loud im so scared one day before My bff lives in the highest floor and the ligthning hit her balcony

  4. If You Fly A Plane In A Storm A Thing Named Microbursts Will Take The Plane Down With Out Anybody Noticing
    It’s Not Going To Take It Down It’s Just Going To Bring The Plane Down To Lower Altitude In A Fast Speed And It’s Dangerous.

  5. Haven't watched the video yet. Just paused to tell you what happens when a plane is struck by lightning.


  6. Once at school lightning hit right next to my classroom (it’s at the edge of the school) and everyone went flying out of their chairs

  7. Today 5 ef5 tornados in some place and all of them having 300 mph winds hail 8 inches across and rain as big as 16 inches

  8. hi i was at meijer gardens at a concert and it started puring and we went to our car and it was thunder and when we got home there was a tornado whiched happened around september in grand rapids MI

  9. Hello there! Can you make a video that explains what kind of smell or something like chemical inside the airplane.

  10. So I was once peacefully sitting with my laptop in the balcony. Suddenly rain started pouring, so I moved away from the railing but still stayed in the balcony, then there were very strong winds, so strong that the trees in my neighbors house below my balcony were swinging so hard that I thought they were going to fall on the balcony. Still I stayed in the balcony. Soon thunder and lighting joined the party, and tags where I gave up and left the balcony. I ended up staying in bed for days afterwards. The strange thing is, it was the middle of summer that day, and it is said that when the storm happened, the roof of a mall collapsed whilst it was open.

  11. The closest lightning has ever gotten to me is my dad went to the store we needed some food ( for later like snacks) it was raining and we already went somewhere to eat so we waited in the car when a Severe Thunderstorm was happening (I think) it struck like this

    I was shocked and scared ;-;

  12. The claim (made multiple times throughout this video) that lightning strikes on planes are infrequent is mistaken. As one article puts it, "Lightning strikes to airplanes are very common and on average, every airliner will be struck by lightning once a year." The generally agreed upon figure is that lightning strikes occur (on average) approximately once every 1,000 operating hours. As numerous industry and scientific sources attest, at this rate it is estimated that every five minutes an aircraft somewhere in the world is struck.

    I work in an electromagnetic interference laboratory testing the effects of lightning strikes (among other things) on aircraft control systems, and can assure you that robust engineering (and rigorous testing) is devoted to ensuring that these systems continue to operate after being subjected to the force of a lightning strike.

  13. Me: man nobody has uploaded about what happens when lighting hits air planez i wanna know

    not even seconds later

    refreshes youtube

    Bright Side: what happens when lighting strikes planes

  14. TLDW; absolutely nothing will happen to you or the other passengers and even the flight systems are fine as you are in a Faraday cage with wings!! The Metal fuselage conducts the electricity of the lightening around the body of the plane and away from anything vital on it's travel downwards and upwards to the earth. YOU ARE SAFE nothing will happen to you, look up Faraday's Cage for the explanation of the principle …

  15. Wait, a 60 watt light bulb consumes 60watts in 1 hour therefore in 6 months it would only consume 262KW, that means 32M Volts? Not one billion!?

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