Non-Metal Airliners in Lightning Storms

Older airliners had metal bodies, where the enormous electric current due to lightning bolts would remain OUTSIDE the aircraft (on the metal surface) due to the Faraday Cage effect. Modern airliners are not made of metal any more, to try to save weight. It may be a very dumb idea. (Dec 2014)

For many years, a similar effect has been seen regarding convertible cars. Nearly all vehicles on the road have a metal body surrounding the passengers and they also have four tires which electrically insulate the car from the ground, at least for some seconds. When a lightning bolt hits a sedan car, the passengers inside are generally not hurt at all, because the enormous electrical current of the lightning bolt never enters the vehicle, but it stays safely along the outer metal surfaces, due to the well-known Faraday Effect. Far more people have been instantly killed in convertibles (with the top up!) because there is no metal surface up there to conduct the electricity.

We are seeing an amazing number of airliners disappearing in storm clouds in 2014. I wonder if anyone ever thought about the implications of the aircraft designers saving weight by possibly causing a new susceptibility to high current electric bolts passing through the aircraft cabin and cockpit, and maybe also through sensitive electronic equipment. If no one has yet considered this terrible possibility, it seems appropriate to now finally give some thought to it!

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If I were to be in an airliner, I really would want to be surrounded by a metal body, for the fairly regular chance that the aircraft might get hit by a lightning bolt.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago