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What happens to an airplane when hit by lightning?

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  • $\begingroup$ @Simon Umm not quite true - unclosed duplicates do. It can be argued that some dupes that redirect automatically are good for the site (more to search for). That said `@Pedro, your question is so similar, you could have found it in the search, and it doesn't add any value to the site - it fractures the answers. $\endgroup$ – Tim Jan 6 '15 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ See also aviation.stackexchange.com/a/3833/1289 $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Jan 7 '15 at 11:05
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Since the aircraft is not grounded, the physics are the same as with a car that gets struck by lightning. The aircraft's skin will be charged, but very little current will be induced in internal parts in the process. The outer skin will act as a Faraday cage and protect the inner parts from the electric field.

This is greatly helped by a metal structure. Composite aircraft parts need a copper mesh over all external surfaces to give them sufficient electrical conductivity. The terminals of that mesh must be connected to the metal parts of the structure to make sure that all parts will have the same electrical potential in case of lightning strike.

However, the ionized air caused by lightning will leave burn marks on the surface, and an inspection of the affected part and the electrical equipment is advisable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Federico Sep 9 '19 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ The Faraday cage it right, but there is a big difference from the bird on a high voltage line. The bird gets statically charged, no current except for the small amount to create the charge. There is a huge current flowing through the Faraday cage. $\endgroup$ – Volker Siegel Nov 13 '19 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ @VolkerSiegel: Right, the current stays in the wire while the outside of the plane becomes a wire for the lightning. What happens on the inside is more similar. Could you propose a better analogy? $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Nov 13 '19 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf I notice that I missed minor, but interesting point about the bird: The current stays in the wire only when the resistance of the bird is much greater than the resistance of the wire. A car is the classical example for a Faraday cage. Otherwise, the physical cage itself. $\endgroup$ – Volker Siegel Nov 13 '19 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ @VolkerSiegel: Right, the car analogy is much closer. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Nov 13 '19 at 20:47

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