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The Traveller's Magazine
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It’s pretty scary when there’s a lightning storm happening right outside your plane’s window. Have you ever wondered what happens when lightning strikes a plane? We get to the bottom of this travel predicament to find out the truth.

Does lighting really pose a threat to airline passengers? How dangerous is it when a place gets struck by lightning? These questions are more will be answered in our post today.

Apparently lightning strikes airplanes all the time, at least according to Patrick Smith, pilot and author of “Cockpit Confidential.” Really, you can’t expect it not to happen in the middle of a storm when a giant metal object flies by. Of course the lightning is going to strike it! Typically, lightning bolts will hit an extremity on the plane, like the tail or a wingtip. The current will travel through the aircraft’s metal shell before leaving it from another point.

Patrick writes in his book,

“An individual jet liner is struck about once every two years, on average, and aeroplanes are designed accordingly. […] 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.”

Aircraft these days are built in a very clever way. They are made from lightweight carbon that is covered in a layer of copper which means the space inside the metal (where the passengers are) is protected from any electrical currents. The fuel tanks in the wings are also protected and the metal joints, doors and vents are designed to withstand the heat from lighting, which can be a whopping 30,000°C!

It’s far too common that not a thing happens when a plane is struck by lightning. Maybe you have to pause your in-flight film to take a look outside to see what that flash of light was but it’s more likely that the passengers on the flight after yours will be the ones delayed, as the aircraft will then need to undergo hours of inspections to make sure no damage was incurred.

Travel Myth Buster is a recurring series on the Traveller’s Blog. We debunk popular travel myths like flying with fresh fillings to the best time to book flights. Check out more travel myth busters on the Traveller’s Blog!

Img: carenmack / Flickr cc.

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