Protecting Planes from Lightning Strikes

Since 2005, John Sulzbach of Killingworth, CT, has served as production manager for Astroseal Products. In this role, John Sulzbach of Killingworth, CT, oversees the manufacture and sale of lightning protection products for aerospace companies.

When lightning strikes an aircraft, it travels almost immediately from entry points to exit points. Without protection, the charge naturally gravitates to denser areas such as the nose, engine cowlings, and tail tips. Because the nose cone, or radome, is particularly vulnerable in that it contains the plane’s radar, manufacturers create the structure of composite material and install metallic lightning diverters to channel the charge away from sensitive areas.

The traditional aluminum construction of aircraft channels electric charge safely from entry to exit, though modern composite aircraft require the addition of conductive fibers across the body to conduct the charge. Meanwhile, additional surge suppressors and advanced shielding techniques are required to protect electronic systems that allow the pilots to control the aircraft’s movable parts. Thicker skins around fuel tanks and conductive bonding for lights keep other sensitive structures safe. Additionally, special structures known as dissipaters also serve to concentrate an electric charge, thus also providing protection against normal static electricity.

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