What happens if the plane is struck by lightning?

Under most circumstances, lightning is a beautiful, natural phenomenon. That perspective might change if you happen find yourself traveling on an airplane. So, what happens if the plane is struck by lightning?

For most of the country, summertime means sunshine, warmer temperatures, and unfortunately, thunderstorms. While these storms and the associated heavy rain and bolts of lightning can be impressive spectacles to watch from the comfort of your own living room, some people find them to be pretty unsettling when viewed from their seat on board an airliner. The lightning produced in thunderstorms is just one of many acts of nature that can contribute to an individual’s fear of flying. Fortunately, these storms and the lightning they produce needn’t be worried about.

…despite being made of so much metal, modern airliners are actually very well insulated.

Although lightning does occasionally strike airplanes from time to time, it poses no real threat to the safety of your flight.  Made mostly of metal, airplanes are excellent conductors of electricity. However, despite being made of so much metal, modern airliners are actually very well insulated. This means that they are designed and built such that the electricity from the lightning is actually redirected along the outer shell of the aircraft, thus providing a buffer that protects passengers and aircraft systems inside the plane.  In fact, aside from passengers possibly seeing a bright flash and hearing a bang, the lightning will have no affect on the aircraft what-so-ever. The plane’s computers, fuel systems, and other critical areas are always effectively protected from the electrical charge of the lightning bolt.  This aircraft design allows the lightning and electricity to harmlessly impact and exit the airplane body without any risk to the safety of the flight.

Today’s airliners are so safe and protected from lightning that there hasn’t been a confirmed crash of a commercial airliner in the US as a result of a lightning strike for over 45 years. And if that’s not enough proof that you have nothing to be concerned about, passengers can take comfort in the results of a related study conducted by NASA in the 1980’s. During the eight years of testing, experts flew a military jet into 1,496 thunderstorms, resulting in the jet being struck by lightning 714 times in a variety of scenarios and conditions. Throughout every one of these instances, there was NEVER any significant damage done to the plane and the resulting data gathered has been used to further enhance and improve current airplane design and construction. Today’s planes are essentially lightning-proof.

So, aside from possibly seeing a bright flash and/or hearing a bang, you won’t feel anything or notice any difference if the plane is struck by lightning. And more importantly, neither will the plane!