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NASA's Aeronautic Lightning Research

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Tagged As: NASA and Science

Airline passengers faced with thunderstorms can thank Bruce Fisher and members of the NASA lightning research team for many of the modern safety features on aircraft. As part of an eight year project, the NASA research team flew an F-106B Delta Dart into almost 1500 thunderstorms in order to study the effects of lightning strikes on airplanes. Modern, all-weather commercial aircraft designs include a "static wick" whose purpose is to dissipate excess electrons via the frame and provide a conduit in case a strike occurs. Ultimately, aircraft are designed to keep the charge and current on an external layer, separate from the sensitive electronics, fuel and passengers.

The lessons of being struck more than 700 times included that aircraft lightning strikes are not chance (i.e., the vehicle's presence draws the strike) and that attempting to fly over a storm results in a higher chance of strike.

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