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What Does an Aircraft Lightning Diverter Actually Do?

What Does an Aircraft Lightning Diverter Actually Do?

Lightning will strike nearly every commercial aircraft once per year. Yet, an aircraft lightning diverter will keep a plane safe and in service, the occupants safely shielded from the high-voltage strikes. In this article, you’ll learn how they work, why they work and how they can keep planes in service.

How do Lightning Strikes Affect Airplanes?

lightning diverters for aircraft

The hope is that they don’t affect them whatsoever, and that’s because of aircraft lightning diverters.

But, what is a lightning diverter, exactly?

A Lightning Diverter is a Thin Strip of Segmented Metal Discs That Attracts Lightning Away from Vital Components.

Remember in Jurassic Park, when the T-Rex starts lunging toward the kids trapped in the SUV, and Alan Grant grabs a flare to distract him away, so that the kids can escape unharmed?

That’s basically how lightning diverters work–they direct the flow of lightning away from vital components so it can pass harmlessly through the skin of the airplane and back into the air.

Here’s the sequence of events that occurs when lightning strikes an airplane:

First: Lightning Strikes An Airplane.

lightning protection planes

This is just an inevitability for every aircraft–it’s a matter of time and most get struck once per year in commercial service.

Yet, instead of this being a catastrophic event that causes electronic or engine damage, the diverter does it’s job.

Typically, lightning strikes will occur on the nose or wings of an airplane, but the radome of the airplane is especially sensitive and must be protected.

Second: The Lightning Is Attracted to a Lightning Diverter.

Lightning is attracted to the metal lightning diverter, away from vital components. One such component is the radome.

The radome is the enclosure on the nose of an aircraft that protects the radar antenna. It must be made of composite material so radio waves can penetrate, and thus it’s susceptible to damage if lightning contacts it.

Lightning protection for the radome is especially important, as it will direct the electricity onto the metal skin of the plan and away from sensitive radar equipment.

Third: Lightning Jumps Between Each Segment on the Lightning Diverter.

Segmented lightning diverters are designed to force lightning to flow through the air, rather than through the diverter itself.

A cable would have to be incredibly thick–and thus heavy and not at all aerodynamic–to handle the huge voltage of a lightning strike.

Segmentation solves this problem.

A segmented lightning diverter is comprised of a chain of very thin metal discs that are not connected. This forces the lightning to “jump” from segment to segment through the air, rather than flowing through the metal itself.

This way, the diverter can remain very thin and aerodynamic, while still not being totally destroyed by the incredibly high voltage of a lightning strike.

Fourth: Lightning Flows into the Skin of the Aircraft.

Ryanair 737 hit by lightning
Ryanair 737 after being hit by lightning

The large surface area of the aircraft skin can easily handle the high voltage of the lightning, distributing it on its way back into the air.

The goal of an aircraft lightning diverter is to direct the flow of electricity to the skin of the airplane, where it will then flow back into the air, then finally to the ground.

In essence, the job of the segmented lightning diverter is to bridge the gap between lightning and the aluminum skin of the airplane. Once it hits the skin, all is well.

Fifth: The Lightning Passes Back into the Air En Route to the Ground

lightning protection for airplanes

The aircraft is simply a stepping stone in a lightning strike’s path to the ground.

Once the lightning has traveled through the plane, it will continue on the path of least resistance toward the ground.

A Segmented Aircraft Lightning Diverter Keeps Air Travel Safe

An aircraft lightning diverter is a critical piece of safety equipment, protecting millions of travelers each year.

A350 XWB lightning test 02

Yet, many aircraft mechanics are replacing lightning diverters every 1-2 years, wasting time and money re-installing these vital pieces of equipment. A low-quality diverter may wear out in as little as a year of service.

WXGuard manufactures extreme lightning protection for the world’s toughest weather conditions.

WXGuard’s extreme lightning protection outlasts the competition by a huge margin.

And, we’ve got the data to prove it.

Learn More About WXGuard Extreme Aircraft Lightning Protection

Keep your planes in the air–with less downtime due to diverter replacement–by installing WXGuard on your fleet.

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GET OUR extensive installation, research & tech spec pdf

Everything you need to know about our legendary lightning protection, and how you get it on your aircraft with minimal effort.