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Lightning strike forces plane to land — this happens more often than you think

Most lightning strikes on aircraft occur when the plane passes through clouds.

During an impact, lightning strikes a part of the plane, such as the nose or wingtip, and then travels along the entire body (image used for illustrative purpose) [Shutterstock]

On Tuesday, April 16, a plane flying from Warsaw to Szczecin, was forced to return after lightning struck it.

According to the LOT spokesman, the incident occurred when the Embraer plane was already near Szczecin.

Planes being hit by lightning are much more common than you might think. So what happens to an airplane when it is struck by lightning?

"You won't feel anything, you may see a flash," says Ania, a Ryanair flight attendant, in an interview with Onet.

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According to the US National Weather Service, every commercial aircraft is struck by lightning on average once or twice a year. However, the frequency of these events depends on many factors, including: number of take-offs and landings and geographical location.

Planes that are used less frequently are less likely to be struck by lightning than those that fly several times a day. Additionally, lightning and storms are more common near the equator, where convection currents generated by warm air favour their formation. Additionally, lightning strikes mainly just after takeoff or before landing. This is because lightning activity is greater at lower altitudes - about 1.5 km above the Earth.

Most lightning strikes on aircraft occur when the plane passes through clouds, especially high, multi-level cumulonimbus clouds, which are the only ones capable of producing hail, thunder and lightning. It may be surprising that lightning strikes on airplanes usually occur at temperatures close to freezing.

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During an impact, lightning strikes a part of the plane, such as the nose or wingtip, and then travels along the entire body of the plane. The metal fuselage acts as a Faraday cage (a metal shield against electrostatic fields, invented in 1836 by physicist, Michael Faraday), protecting the inside of the plane while the voltage travels around the outside of the machine.

"Passengers do not feel it when lightning strikes the plane, or they see a flash, but generally nothing happens," says Ania.

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Although the metal fuselage of an aircraft provides protection, lightning currents can sometimes cause so-called "indirect effects" in which the equipment inside is subjected to undesirable interference.

"In such situations, pilots decide what to do with the machine, it may happen that such an impact will affect further operations on a given day. After landing, the mechanics always inspect and check whether everything is okay with the machine," adds Ania.

The circuits and equipment necessary for safe flight and landing must have special protection in the form of shielding, grounding, insulation and surge suppression.

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This article was originaly published on Onet Travel.

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