I must compliment you on your website. It is an excellent and very informative site. You are definitely doing a service to the flying public by not only helping them to conquer their fears of flying but also educating them on air travel.
I used to be a frequent flyer but after the September 11th incident and a very turbulent flight on my last trip back from Asia, the fear of flying just overcame me. I am due to make a trip back to Singapore soon and that is why I started to do some research on air turbulence in the hopes that understanding what it is will help me calm my fears a bit.
I have 2 questions for you. I hope you can provide me with the answers.
1. What happens when an aircraft is struck by lightning? During that last trip back from Singapore, the aircraft I was in, was struck by lightning (what luck!!). I felt the aircraft swerve to the right and then there was severe turbulence, and (it felt like) the aircraft dropped several hundred feet. It did that twice!! I do not know if it really dropped that much but that was what it felt like. Although the Captain announced shortly after, that the aircraft was struck by lightning and assured us passengers that all is under control, my hands were gripped tight to the armrests until we landed.
2. On another flight about to take off from Frankfurt once, I noticed that there were several trucks on the runway, firing shots to scare the birds. What happens if a bird should get lodged within an engine? Will the cockpit crew know about it? I know there will be nothing left of the poor bird but what danger does that pose?
Once again, compliments to your site and keep up the excellent effort!
Central Texas, USA.
I have answered this question before but I can't place, under which FAQ did I mention about this topic. So I can't blame you if you have missed reading it!
Lightning, though fearsome, is not dangerous to the airplane or passengers. Even if there is a direct strike, it does not penetrate the cabin nor affect the engines or fuel tanks. In fact, statistics have shown that an airplane is struck by lightning's at least once in every two years. What happens is, when an airplane is struck by a lightning, the electrical charges just traverse the length of the aircraft and exit through the static wicks at the trailing edges of the flaps or tail plane. The next time you happen to sit by a window seat behind the wings, just look out for these static wicks. They are like painting brushes with fine hairs sticking out, at the end of the flaps.
If you are a science student, you would remember the Faraday cage principle. Faraday was a scientist who discovered that, if you put electricity through a metal cage, no matter how strong or high the voltage is, anything inside the cage is totally protected from the electricity. The airplane cabin or a car body is similar to the Faraday cage. So don't worry, you are safe in a lightning strike in an airplane just like you would in your car!
What is the effect of a lightning strike on the airplane's body? Nothing very serious really. You may get some small burnt marks on the fuselage skin at the point of impact. The pilot would usually be aware of such a strike. He would report this incident to the engineers after landing for further inspection and rectification.
This second question about bird strikes has also been answered before.
Have a safe flight in your next journey (free of lightning's and birds of course!)
If you like what you read, more stories are found in my book LIFE IN THE SKIES (Preview here) and you can purchase a copy here. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my Twitter at @CaptKHLim or Facebook here