Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found a way to potentially reduce the risk of airplanes being damaged due to lightning. According to the MIT team, an airplane could significantly reduce the risk of being struck by lightning if it is charged just to the right level. As per their proposal, an airplane could be electrically charged with the help of an onboard system to decrease its lightning risk.
Lightning Strikes World’s Every Commercial Airplane at least Once per Year
An airplane’s external electrical state could shift from normal when passing through an ambient electric field. This causes one end of the airplane to become more negatively charged while the other more positively charged. As a result, the airplane sets off a positive leader, a highly conductive plasma flow, the stage preceding to a lightning strike. In order to find a solution to this problem, MIT engineers have conducted a research which has its results published in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Journal.
The researchers have looked to dampen or dilute the effect of the more positively charged end of an airplane by charging it to a negative level temporarily to counter the preceding lightning stage. This could help the airplane to avoid initiating a lightning strike by preventing the positively charged end to reach a critical level. The team of researchers intend to outfit an airplane with an automated control system that consists of actuators and sensors equipped with small power supplies. Possible signs of positive leader formation could be detected by these sensors, following which the actuators would release a current charging the airplane in the right direction.