What Happens When Lightning Hits an Airplane? Does it Mean an Airplane Engine Overhaul?

It is estimated that every airplane in the United States commercial fleet will be struck by lightning more than once each year, although smaller, commuter type planes do not experience as many strikes because they are smaller and generally able to avoid clouds with potential lightning.  Although there have been instances of damage to aircraft due to lightning strikes, rarely does a strike necessitate an airplane engine overhaul.


In 1967, lightning sparked a catastrophic fuel tank explosion in a commercial airline.  Additional safety techniques have been added since then and aircraft are subjected to numerous sets of lightning certification tests during the design phase, further reducing the chances that a plane will need an airplane engine overhaul after a strike.  There have been small, commuter plane crashes that have been linked to lightning strikes, but few commercial incidents.

Passenger Risk

Most aircraft are made of aluminum, which is a good electrical conductor. Yet, in most cases where airplanes are struck by lightning during flight, passengers and the plane have survived without significant damage or injury.  However, there have been incidents when a plane sitting on a runway has been struck by lightning and passengers suffered minor injuries due to the strike.

airplanestruckbylightening-150x150What Happens?

When lightning strikes a plane during flight, it usually attaches to the nose or wing tip of the plane.  As the plane flies through the lightning flash, the electricity reattaches to the fuselage, and then travels through the exterior structure of the aircraft, exiting through another extremity such as the tail.  Lights may flicker or there may be short-lived interference with instruments.  In addition, passengers may notice some problems with headsets or other computer-operated equipment while the plane travels through the electrical charge.

New designs and better protection techniques have improved the way that airplanes can handle lightning strikes.  More protection for the fuel system and added skins on the plane better protect passengers and eliminate the need for airplane engine overhaul.  If you need any further information contact Covington Aircraft for any airplane engine overhaul needs!

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One thought on “What Happens When Lightning Hits an Airplane? Does it Mean an Airplane Engine Overhaul?

  1. My plane (SA227) was hit by lightning and we didn’t even know it until we landed. The lightning hit the tip of one of the props, went through the engine case (magnetizing it) and exited the tail. It was at night and we didn’t even see the exit damage on post flight, it was small and not readily apparent even in the daylight. The only way we knew there was an issue was that when we were spinning the props after shutdown (a Garrett engine requirement), we could head a “grinding sound” from the engine case. Apparently, when it was magnetized, it brought all of the fine metal particles in the oil and gearbox into the gears, creating the sound.

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