When Lightning Strikes Airplanes


They say it’s more probable to get struck by lightning than to die in a plane crash, but most people don’t know that planes get struck by lightning all the time. Al the time!

Okay, not all the time, but it’s definitely more likely than dying by plane. In fact, it’s estimated that lightning strikes every airplane at least once per year. (The odds of being personally struck by lightning is about 1 in 3,000 in a person’s lifetime.)

One of the most shocked reactions I ever witnessed was an off-duty flight attendant telling people that it’s actually pretty common for lightning to strike planes mid-flight. The first time I heard about it happening was when the Spanish World Cup soccer team was returning disgraced after failing to advance past the group stage. As if that alone wasn’t bad enough, there were the heavens telling you that you failed.

But before anyone starts to freak out about lightning striking them clear out of the air with the force of God, having lightning hit a plane is really no biggie. While there have been reports historically of lightning causing serious damage to aircraft, it takes a lot more than an electrical bolt to bring down planes these days. The last time lightning was the cause of plane crash in the U.S. was way, way back in 1967.

Behind the science
It makes a lot of sense that airplanes would be prone to lightning strikes. They’re vessels made of metal (at least partially) hurtling through clouds, the very place where storms brew. In fact, airplanes actually can provoke or trigger lightning strikes.

Essentially, the plane acts as a conductor and connects two polar opposite regions, one positively charged and one negatively charged. The regions can be —> Read More