Do airplanes get struck by lightning?« Back to Questions List

Airplanes  are get struck by lightning frequently. However, they're built to handle it.


But, lightning has not caused a major airliner crash in more than 40 years. On December 8, 1962 lighting hit a Pan American Boeing 707 in a holding pattern over Elkton, Md. The lightning caused a spark that ignited fuel vapor in a tank, causing an explosion that brought the plane down, killing all 81 aboard.


Most of the time, planes weather lightning just fine. Protection begins with the fact that airliners, and the majority of other airplanes, are made of aluminum, which is a very good electrical conductor. A lightning bolt's electricity flows along the airplane's skin and into the air. Fuel tanks are tested to ensure they can withstand a lightning strike without allowing dangerous sparks.


During a 1980s lightning research project, NASA flew an F-106B jet into 1,400 thunderstorms and lightning hit it at least 700 times. The lightning didn't damage the airplane, but the data the jet collected showed that lighting could induce relatively small electrical currents that could damage electronic systems.


However,  thunderstorms offer plenty of other dangers and pilots try to stay away from them, especially strong thunderstorms