What happens when a plane gets struck by lightning?

By Aimee Shaw

Aircraft are frequently struck by lightning. Photo / Getty Images
Aircraft are frequently struck by lightning. Photo / Getty Images

• Passengers may see a flash of light and hear a loud noise.
• The aircraft may shake during the intial strike while it passes through.
• Avionic systems such as electrics could be affected for some time.
• Lightning typically strikes the wing tips or nose of an aircraft.

While the thought of lightning striking a plane mid-flight is daunting, the fact of the matter is it is a common occurrence.

According to Cockpit Confidential author Patrick Smith, an individual jetliner is struck by lightning on average every two years.

Aircraft is designed to withstand the impact of lightning and it is very rare to see external damage to the plane.

"Once in a while there's exterior damage - a superficial entry or exit wound - or minor injury to the plane's electrical systems, but a strike typically leaves little or no evidence," Smith said.

Modern aircraft are made of lightweight carbon composite covered with a layer of copper which means that the space inside the metal (where you're sitting) is protected from electric currents.

Lightning is likely to strike a plane when passing through storm clouds, usually between 6,500-16,500 feet from the ground.

Research shows the higher the altitude, the more susceptible a plane is to lightning.

- NZ Herald

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