Aviation In Canada

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Aircraft Lightning Strikes

Once again, an aviation occurence brings out the experts (Damn, I hope I'm not lumped into the category I'm demeaning right now). This short comment is about lightning strikes on aircraft.

There are some comments floating around with rampant speculation about whether the Air France A340 was struck by lightning on final or on the runway and what damage may have been done. Some sources say things like, "Aircraft are designed to handle lightning strikes and therefore never suffer damage from them," while others (especially frantic passengers, scared eye-witnesses, and fear-mongering or sensationalistic media moguls) state things like "a lightning strike is always a disaster!" I think we have to look at this one through different colored glasses, people.

There have been many incidents of lightning strikes on aircraft. Sometimes nothing more than burnmarks on the skin are evident, while other times critical systems can be affected. Think about it: Any conductor carrying electricity will dissipate some of it as heat. With a lightning strike, there is a LOT of current to dissipate. Even if no electrical current overloads a system or two on the way through, the heat can fuse parts or have an effect on system operation. This doesn't mean it will, but it can. Also, the simple fact of a system like a radio designed to run on comparatively low voltage (anything compared to the power contained in even a weak lightning bolt is comparatively low) could easily be overloaded or burnt out by a strike. Having said what I have about the possibilities of damage, most aircraft struck by lightning survive to make a landing.

Once again, I stress that we have to let the real investigators do their work and see what they have to say about what happened here, rather than leave it up to the new media who think they are investigative reporters.