Lightning Strikes and Composite Airframes
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By William GrecoJuly 20092404 Greensward N.Warrington, Pa.
Lightning is not a problem for aircraft with aluminum airframes, however today’smodern aircraft that are now coming off the assembly lines are making extensive use of composite material to significantly reduce weight and, hence, fuel consumption. Unlikealuminum composite material does not conduct and dissipate electricity. Airframes of electrically insulated carbon fiber/ epoxy composites can be damaged, particularly at theentry and exit points of a lightning strike, because they absorb the lightning strike insteadof conducting and dissipating it.
Lightning and Airplanes
A Lightning strike on an aircraft generally does not damage the plane, burn markshowever do appear. The electrical energy makes it way through the metal skin of theaircraft. Sometimes the electrical surge will damage aircraft electronics. Usually aircraft
do not receive large amounts of damage that will cause a problem’s with flying the plane.An aluminum skinned aircraft can usually dissipate the lightning energy.
The outer skin of airplanes used to be aluminum, which conducts electricity; the lightning flowsthrough the aluminum skin from the point of impact to some other point without interruption ordiversion to the interior of the aircraft
he first contact with lightning is at a terminal point such as the tail, nose or wingtip.As the aircraft passes through the areas of opposite charges, the lightning moves throughthe aluminum aircraft skin and exits through another point, frequently an extremity.Lightning can cause problems with sensitive electronic equipment on the plane. Surgesuppressors protect electrical equipment.Most aircraft avoid lightning storms.Clouds attract electrons from the ground. These electrons will gather on anything thatgathers charge. That electric charge will start to work it's way through the air, ionizing it,until the leader working it's way down, and the leader trying to get up finally meet. Whenthey do - there's lightning. An aircraft flying between the highly charged portions of acloud will act as a conduit for step leaders, being able to produce one in each direction.
Aircraft dissipate lightning through the use of “Static Wicks",“Null Field Trailing Dischagers” and “Micro Point Trailing Dischargers”. These are pieces of metal connected the frame of the aircraft, with one or multiple spikes on theend. They are contained in fiberglass rods. The spikes concentrate any electric chargearound them, they are connected to the airframe, they allow the airplane to scatter anddisperse static electricity. If lightning strikes the aircraft, electricity will go through thedischargers and not through the airplane.