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With air travel becoming a norm nowadays, so do the risk of the aircraft getting strike by the
lightning. Although an aircraft struck by the lightning was not felt or post any immediate
danger to the passengers, the aircraft structure had been compromised. For years, manufacturer
had designed the commercial aircraft with lightning strike protection, but that does not
eliminate the chances of getting strike by lightning, but merely decreases the likelihood. As the
aircraft get struck by lightning, damages would be one on the aircraft structure, inspection and
repair work had to be carried out to ensure the airworthiness of the aircraft to resume the flights.
In the process of detecting damage in composite structure due to the lightning, it is only
detectable and only will be tested if the damage is noticed. This is because the incident occurred
will only able to be noticed due to scar or dent left by the lightning. Then only the process of
recovering will be carried out. Thus, detection of the damage due to lightning struck is mainly
carried once when it is seen visually and analysed by professional officer, whom is an expertise
of the visual detection method.
Moreover, the lightning damage can be detected through sensors that are being applied on the
structures as upon impact of the lightning, it will help to alert the pilot to take further action.
Some damages that cannot be seen visually such as micro crack can be appeal by applying dye
and UV light on to the surface. Each aircraft has its own manual or guideline for the inspection
and also the repair if needed which help the industry player to take action following the damage
resulted by the lightning strike.
On the potential detection side, there is one method that is called self-sensing time-domain
reflectometry (TDR), which is used to detect the defection of composite material that caused
by lightning strike. Basically, they imitating the lightning strike incident by conducting
electrical current through the metal strip that is attached to the composite material. It is still in
development and being research by many curious researcher, up to this date.






3.1 Procedures and Processes for Visual Inspection 5

3.2 Targets 5
3.3 Imagination 6
3.4 Delamination 6
3.5 Visual Detection of Surface Cracks


4.1 Required Actions Following a Lightning Strike to an Airplane 7

4.2 Inspection for Lightning Strike Damage Detection 7
4.3 Structural Repairs for the Lightning Strike Damages 8




7.0 REFERENCES 12 – 13


In the current era, air travel had involved into the main mean of transportation across countries and
continents, it is no longer an exclusivity anymore as it was in the pre-2000 era. It had become so much
more affordable, and accessible to the public consumers; thus, the number of flight increases throughout
the years. However, with the increasing number of flight travel comes the requirement to ensure the
safety of the public. As reported through study, the average flight would be struck by lightning at least
once a year [1]. At the same time, in the effort to build a lighter and efficient aircraft, composite material
had been the preferred option. As a result, it could bring physical damage to the point of lightning strike
on the composite, given that the material is not electricity conductive, would be view as a safety hazard
if not properly handled [2]. To solve the issue, lightning strike protection methods had been practised
by manufacturers. However, those methods are not perfect, as the chances of lightning strike onto the
aircraft still present. The detection of lightning strike is normally easily spotted through the burn mark
on the skin of the aircraft. However, researchers had been looking for a more effective method to study
the effects and detect the damages by lightning strike onto a composite material.


Lightning strike to aircraft is an event of electrical discharge that travels from cloud to aircraft which is
not uncommon. As reported by Larsson, most of the lightning strike cases are triggered by the aircraft.
In the event of lightning strike, it was initiated by the positive discharge of the aircraft, usually from the
nose or wing tip. During a lightning flash, the aircraft would form part of the lightning path, a negative
charge would usually enter through nose, then exit by the tail. As such, there would be two attachment
points, the nose acts as an anode while the tail a cathode, as illustrated in Fig. 1.

In the case of a metallic-bodied aircraft, the lightning discharge could easily travel through the airframe
due to the high electricity and thermal conductivity properties, thus leaving no significant damage to
the structure [3]. However, things have changed recently, with composite materials largely used in
aircraft skin. This evolution was brought about by the fact that composite materials offer light yet great
strength-to-weight ratio. As a result, lighter aircraft could be designed to increase fuel efficiency, hence
reducing the cost of travel and emission.

Although the composite material could greatly reduce the weight of aircraft, the non-electric and low
thermal conductivity of carbon composite eventually became an issue against lightning phenomena [4].
In the event of lightning strike, damages would be formed at the attachment points. Usually, the high
energy of lightning strike would cause direct effect onto the composite material, which through studies
revealed the three possible modes of material damage, namely fiber damage, matrix deterioration, and
delamination. These would then cause the composite structure to lose its mechanical properties [5], [6].
Due to the low conductivity of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP), resistive heating induced high
thermal load onto the material, thus causing resin decomposition and delamination, where such process
is known as pyrolysis [4].

Figure 1. Illustration of two different lightning strike process. Inception process by aircraft at the top,
while aircraft-triggered process at the bottom.

While the lightning channel is stationary as the aircraft is cruising, a lightning swept stroke occurs [1].
There are three possible phenomena of swept stroke as depicted in Fig. 2, with the first type being the
attachment point fixed on the exact point during the flash. The second phenomenon is where the
attachment point sweep along the surface as the aircraft moves, bigger burn mark would be formed. The
third type is when there is a breakdown during the flash and a reattachment point is established. The
area between the initial attachment to the reattachment point would be known as aircraft zoning.
Usually, this would leave a bigger and multiple burn marks on the composite surface.

Figure 2. Three different type of swept stroke. (a) attachment point at fix point; (b) attachment point
sweep along surface; (c) reattachment during channel breakdown.


The greatest challenge in detecting defect in composite material especially on aircraft are through
visually majorly. The procedure of visual assessment ought to contain two central components to be
fruitful: a prepared reviewer with binocular vision and great visual sharpness; an investigation
methodology which characterizes the subtle elements of the examination, including cases of the
defect(s) followed. The discoveries of qualified examiners utilizing fitting techniques on particular
points of interest of an airplane can be broke down to give quantitative information on the unwavering
quality of review for a given detail. Information picked up from this investigation sets up the time
interims at which the assessments are performed [7].

3.1 Procedures and Processes for Visual Inspection

The different parts of a flying machine fluctuate contingent on their utilization, material
cosmetics, strategy for creation, and the place in which they work. While the vast majority of
the guides for the assessment procedure are utilized for motors, airframes, related frameworks,
segments, and accessories, they are utilized to a contrasting degree and might be adjusted and
designed for particular applications. The real contrast between examination of engines and
airframes is that lone superficial investigations of motors can be made on the air ship. In spite
of the fact that borescopes and different upgrades are extending the number and nature of
examinations on mounted motors, finishes, and thorough motor assessments require their
expulsion from the aircraft and, by a large, full teardown [7].

3.2 Targets

Viable assessors take a gander at particular targets instead of sweep a region. The eye is
practically visually impaired when it is moving between perception focuses. In like manner, a
system of step-examining is utilized. Posts spotting objects not too far off are instructed to step
filter with binoculars. The individuals who are capable can identify moving toward objects some
time before they are generally unmistakable. Essentially, while watching faint articles against a
dim foundation, spectators are educated to centre to the other side or over the question saw. They
are then ready to see subtle elements which are not generally unmistakable. These and different
sorts of strategies can be utilized by reviewers to search for target abandons in all parts of the
flying machine [7].

3.3 Imagination

Another valuable system for the reviewer is to envision what sort of activity would cause a
specific imperfection. This point of view may give some insight in the matter of what the
imperfection will resemble. Skin wrinkles which might be caused by a hidden split, are a case of
a deformity distinguished by such a procedure [7].

3.4 Delamination

Identified outwardly and with ultrasonic C-scan. Delamination were characterized as "moderate"
when they expanded 10-20 percent (2-4 plies deep) into the overlay thickness on the leave side.
Delamination were characterized as "serious" when they expanded 20-30 percent (4-6 plies) of
the overlay thickness on the leave side. Non-damaging C-scan in the zone of the latch openings
with direct and with serious delamination [8].

3.5 Visual Detection of Surface Cracks

Fig. 3 is presenting the simplified procedure when searching for surface breaks with flashlight, it
showing that the light ought to be guided at a 5- to 45-degree edge. The light beam ought not be
coordinated at such an edge, to the point that the reflected light bar sparkles straightforwardly
into the eyes. The eyes ought to be engaged over the beam amid the examination. The degree of
any breaks can be dictated by coordinating the light shaft at right edges to the split and following
its length. A 10-power amplifying glass ought to be utilized to affirm the presence of a speculated
break [7].

Figure 3. Using a flashlight to inspect for surface cracks.


Lightning can pose a great danger to the aircraft where the discharge has possibilities to strike an aircraft
which can damage the structure at the entry and cause a current with a very high voltage running to the
structure to reach the exit point. Most of the manufacturers will provide a protection, for example,
Carbon Nanotube (CNT) nanofiller and metal mesh for the aircraft to prevent lightning strike on the
structure, fuel tanks, and also the components inside. They also used the lightning detector to avoid the
active area of lightning strike for planning the path taken by the aircraft or delayed the departure if the
weather was bad for the aircraft to leave. These methods can reduce the risk of being strike by the
lightning and can save a lot of cost in case where the maintenance and repair are needed for the aircraft
that is been hit.

The lightning strike can still affect the structures with the protection and leave some damage to it where
the industry players need to take an action following the damage given by the discharge of the lightning.

4.1 Required Actions Following a Lightning Strike to an Airplane

When the lightning strikes an aircraft, the situation can be known by the pilot through the sensor
called The Sans Electrical Connection (SansEC) sensor where it has multi purposes includes
ability to detect lightning strike damage to composite aircraft. This sensor has been implemented
into the composite aircraft replacing the metal meshes for better current conduction through the
structures. The decision falls onto the hand of the pilot whether to navigate the aircraft to its
original destination or be redirected to a nearby landing field after being hit by the lightning for
an immediate inspection and possible repair [9].

4.2 Inspection for Lightning Strike Damage Detection

A lightning-strike conditional inspection must be made to pinpoint the entrance and exit point of
the lightning-strike includes the possible damage occurred on the structure. Boeing mention that
it is required to detect any possible damages on the composite structure and repair or replace it to
provide an airworthy condition for aircraft for the next flight [9]. With the SansEC sensor being
applied on the aircraft, the damage that being inflected by the strike at the surface and within the
composite structure can be detected. In addition, defect composite structure such as punctures,
delamination, rips and voids can be discovered and identified by the sensor [10].

The industry players can refer to the procedures for the maintenance as the reliable source for
inspection guidelines which different for each aircraft in term of its structure and material used.

For example, based on the aircraft inspection check sheet for U-21A, RU-21A, and RU-21D,
some procedures need to be followed regarding avionics and electrical systems of the aircraft
includes its communications and navigation equipment for a major damage, while these can be
skipped if it is only a minor damage [11].

For microstructure of polymer composites that have been subjected to high energy strike, the
polymer can degrade or vaporize due to the hot spot region where the fibers are degraded. The
detection of micro crack can be accomplished by adding laser dyed back filled epoxy to the
affected region to preserve it and can be visible with the exposure to UV light [12].

4.3 Structural Repairs for the Lightning Strike Damages

Each aircraft model have its own specified information and processes for regular lightning
allowable damage limits and applicable repairs or rework which can be obtained in the Structural
Repair Manual (SRM) where the structural integrity, materials, ultimate load strength, and
protective finish need to be restored to its original state [9].


5.1 Using Self-Sensing Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR)

A group of researchers from Japan have proposed and done a research on lightning strikes and
self-sensing time domain reflectometry (TDR). Basically, TDR is used to locate spots of
discontinuities in wires and cables [13]. The propagation of signal velocity, with a default
reflection at one point of discontinuity in wires or cables, allows the operators to identify locations
of line breaks or other damage by using time analysis [13]. Since the lightning could strikes an
aircraft about 200,000 amperes [14], then the possibilities of any discontinuation or breakage is
high. Thus, the relevancy of this step is theorized and put it into an experiment. An experiment
conducted as in Fig. 4 setup by Todoroki et al., on using Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer
composite (CFRP), since this material used extensively in aerospace industry [15].

Figure 4. Setup apparatus for TDR.

Fasteners are considered also in this experiment, not only the materials, like wings, to experience
real life situation on lightning effect. In the experiment, a copper tape and the composite were
used as non-insulating materials. There is a Glass Fiber Reinforced Polymer (GFRP) plate, acting
as an insulator between the copper tape and the composite. Then, the impedance of the strip is
matches to 50Ω. The imitation of lightning is done by applying currents to the fastener. This is
crucial step to detecting damage involving lightning on CFRP structures by self-sensing TDR
method [16]. Fig. 5 shown the composite material setup in details.

Figure 5. Fitting of copper strip.

The detection of damages by TDR method is effective when the Japanese researchers, conducted
by Todoroki et al. managed to get a source of damage as high as 30kA lightning strikes [17]. Fig.
6 is showing one of the result from the strikes.

Figure 6. The result of the lightning strikes (the top arrow).

Although that this kind of detection is already used minorly in some parts of Japan, but it has the
potential to detect lightning strikes more accurately and precisely. This kind of technology is used
in Japan for detection purposes, but only in an academia or academic purposes.


After all, this natural-occurring lightning strike phenomena on the aircraft structures (in this case:
composite material) can never be abolished; but, preventions are always being carried out using several,
crucial detection notions; for instance, procedures and processes for visual inspection, targets,
imagination, delamination, and visual detection of surface cracks, by both the curious researchers as for
the recent, potential self-sensing time domain reflectometry (TDR) method and industry players like
Boeing, NASA, and others from all over the world in order to ensure an airworthy condition from the
composite structural integrity aspect based on the required regulation imposed upon all the registered
aircrafts for any safe flight operation, therefore, as the researches goes on, the new cutting-edge
technology that will be implemented commercially soon is improving the aircraft composite structural
safety; in example, the Sans Electrical Connection (SansEC) sensor which is created by NASA and the
TDR from the Japan researchers, are among the latest, high reliability advancements in the composite
damage detection due to the lightning strike.


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Rendus Phys., vol. 3, no. 10, pp. 1423–1444, 2002.
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coupons subjected to simulated lightning strike,” Compos. Part A, vol. 40, pp. 954–967, 2009.
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[11] United States. Department of the Army., Aviation unit and aviation intermediate maintenance
manual : Army models U-21A, RU-21A, and RU-21D. (Continually updated resource, 1989)
[]. 1989.
[12] P. Feraboli and M. Miller, “Damage resistance and tolerance of carbon/ epoxy composite
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[13] S. B. Jones, J. M. Wraith, and D. Or, “Time domain reflectometry measurement principles and
applications,” Hydrol. Process., vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 141–153, 2002.
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[16] A. Todoroki, K. Ohara, Y. Mizutani, and Y. Suzuki, “Self-Sensing TDR for Bearing Failure
Detection of CFRP Laminate Fastener Hole with Particular Reference to the Effect of
Fasteners,” no. July, pp. 60–69, 2015.
[17] A. Todoroki, K. Ohara, Y. Mizutani, and Y. Suzuki, “Lightning strike damage detection at a
fastener using self-sensing TDR of composite plate,”, 2015