Another Reason Not To Fly The Dangers of Lightning and Severe Turbulence to Modern Aircraft

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It is possible
that the fury of an equatorial storm brought down Air France flight
447.

The plane’s
flight path seems to have taken it through what meteorologists call
the inter-tropical convergence zone.

This is where
two air masses meet, sending huge storm clouds more than 40,000ft
(12,000m) into the sky.

Eight years
ago, former British Airways captain Roger Guiver was confronted
with an enormous storm during a flight from Cape Town to London
Heathrow.

"You take
weather like that extremely seriously," he says. "You
don’t go anywhere near it."

There are two
potential dangers – lightning and severe turbulence.

Lightning

Lightning can
strike anywhere – the charge flows around the plane’s skin and can
damage electrical systems.

But aircraft
wings have what are called "static wicks" which dissipate
the electricity safely.

Bored, long-haul
passengers looking out of the window at the wings will spot them – thin, aerial-like structures, trailing in the slipstream.

Roger Guiver
says one dramatic warning of a possible lightning strike is St Elmo’s
Fire – static that flickers over the windscreen as the plane flies
through a storm.

But lightning
almost never causes air crashes, at least directly.

The respected
Aviation Safety Network database lists just 15 incidents in more
than 50 years of aviation history.

The worst was
the loss of an Iranian Air Force Boeing 747 in 1976 near Madrid.
Lightning ignited vapour in a fuel tank, causing an explosion.

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the rest of the article

June
3, 2009

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