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Tech & Science New Tech to Save Aircraft from Lightning Strikes

19:05  12 march  2018
19:05  12 march  2018 Source:   ibtimes.com

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have proposed a novel system that could save passenger as well as military planes from lightning strikes . MIT's new tech to protect aircraft from lightning strikes . This is a representational image.

Aircraft Lightning Strike Protection. Design Factors. Technical References. Composites & Dexmet Lightning Strike Protection. Aluminum has been the principal material used in aircraft and aerospace construction for the past 60 years.

MIT's new tech to protect aircraft from lightning strikes. This is a representational image. <br /> © Provided by IBT US MIT's new tech to protect aircraft from lightning strikes. This is a representational image. 
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have proposed a novel system that could save passenger as well as military planes from lightning strikes.

A strong lightning jolt can immediately damage the outer structure as well as electrical systems onboard an aircraft. Pilots usually tend to avoid this problem by opting for a safer route, but researchers at MIT think charging a plane could be the way to deal with it.

It is estimated that every commercial aircraft is hit by lightning at least once a year. Of these, nearly 10% of the strikes occur naturally, while the rest are triggered from the aircraft itself — a situation where its exterior acts as an electrically conductive lightning rod which leverages stormy regions to generate strikes.

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The short answer is, that the lightning usually strikes the aircraft on the nose, and then travels along the skin until exiting the aircraft at one of the extremities. This page may be out of date. Save your draft before refreshing this page.Submit any pending changes before refreshing this page.

An imbalance in the external electrical state of the aircraft results in such strikes. More specifically, while passing through thunderstorms or an electrically charged environment, the aircraft starts polarizing, with one end gaining positive charge and other becoming more negatively charged. This sets off a highly conductive flow of plasma, ultimately leading to the lightning strike.

However, if this imbalance is restored, aircraft-triggered lightning strikes could be prevented, the researchers said while suggesting an automated control system that could electrically charge the plane to a negative level and negate the effect of the more highly charged positive end.

As part of a study sponsored by Boeing, the group used a working model to show how the system, outfitted on an aircraft, would use sensors and actuators to detect plasma flow and generate current to charge the plane to the required level. 

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Recent experimental flights designed to determine probabilities and causes of aircraft lightning strikes have provided some new information related to a pilot's chances of receiving an in-flight encounter with lightning bolts.

An aircraft radome undergoes lightning testing at National Technical Systems’ (Calabasas, Calif.) lightning test laboratory. A 2.4-megavolt generator produces a strike to test the lightning strike protection (LSP) system on the part.

“Numerically, one can see that if you could implement this charge strategy, you would have a significant reduction in the incidents of lightning strikes,” Manuel Martinez-Sanchez, one of the members of the team, said in a release.

The passengers sitting inside will also stay safe as the power levels required for the charge would be lower than what is required for a simple bulb. Plus, aircraft cabins are very well insulated from the external electrical activity, Martinez-Sanchez added.

“We’re trying to make the aircraft as invisible to lightning as possible,” Jaime Peraire, head of MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said in a statement.

That said, bringing the system to life is still a question, at least as of now. The researchers are currently testing it on a metallic sphere in a wind tunnel and plan to make further improvements by expanding to more realistic situations like by flying drones into thunderstorms. This would include bringing down the response time of the system from a fraction of a second to even less. 

The work was published in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Journal.

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