Zapping model planes with high voltage

Lightningplanenenene IEEE Spectrum Video visited Lightning Technologies Incorporated, where they zap model airplanes with 2 million volts to simulate a real strike in the sky.
Visit to the Lightning Lab (Thanks, Kenny Montana!)


  1. Most people are thankfully unaware of just how many times an airliner can get struck by lightning. On average, it happens as frequently as once a year to each airliner.

    So it should come as no surprise that part of the FAA’s certification process is to test for this extreme condition and prove that the aircraft can withstand a lightning strike and keep flying. In fact, even private aircraft have to prove that they’re safe from lightning.

    And before any of you start asking questions like why the hell pilots don’t stay away from thunderstorms, the answer is that they do their very best to stay away at all cost. Nevertheless, lightning strikes can emerge from the sides of large thunderstorms and hit aircraft up to 25 miles away from the storm.

    There is still a great deal that needs to be researched. For example, making sure that composite aircraft materials are properly protected from a lightning strike. Most of those problems have been worked out, though there may still be a few surprises to be discovered. Aluminum aircraft are relatively safe because they’re practically flying faraday cages…

  2. Both the Mad Scientist and the Nervous Flyer in me wet themselves when they saw this, but for very different reasons.

  3. The company I work for does business with Lightning Diversion Systems, a company that makes lightning protection products for aircraft. They have a test facility where they produce lightning too – I haven’t yet visited, but others where I work have brought back stories. They make products that protect antenna radomes on aircraft – an especially difficult problem, because good lightning shielding is also good RF shielding, and therefore bad antenna radome material!

  4. what if the radome had radiating lines of conductive material on a field of non-conducting and rotated,with software to fill the radar “holes” to give seamless realtime?

  5. I like your suggestion, Taku, but this would be an expensive solution! Typically, you put diverter strips across the radome (counting heavily on LDS expertise). These strips interfere very little with antenna operation; they do not require motors or real-time signal processing either.

  6. So a commercial aircraft can easily withstand direct lightening strikes, but if I turn on my cellphone it will plummet to Earth in a fireball of molten aluminum?

  7. #12: of course not – but you might not be paying attention when something happens and your help is needed, if you’re on your cellphone. common misconception, probably spread by flight attendants who’ve (understandably) lost their patience.

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