Is It Possible For Planes To Be Struck By Lightning?

If you're a nervous flier, the last thing you want to do is have a plane take off in the middle of inclement weather. And if you've ever had to fly in the middle of a particularly bad thunderstorm, you might have found yourself wondering: Can planes actually get hit by lightning

The short answer is yes. It is actually fairly common for planes to get struck by lightning, but the good news is that most of the time, the planes are fine. Planes are now specifically designed to withstand electrical currents thousands of times more powerful than a lightning bolt can deliver, according to Travel and Leisure. One of the potential dangers of a lightning strike is sparks reaching the plane's fuel source and igniting a fire, so all planes have built-in systems in place to ensure that the fuel tank and fuel lines are enclosed and fully protected against electricity.

Lightning causes little damage to modern planes

Plane bodies are covered with an aluminum composite material that conducts the electricity away from the plane if lightning hits. They are also equipped with devices called static wicks, which direct the electricity off the plane and back into the sky. The wing tips or tail can act as lightning rods, and while those can sometimes show signs of damage after a particularly bad strike, it does not affect the plane's ability to stay safely in the air. 

The last known plane crash that was caused by lightning happened in 1962, when lightning struck a Pan Am Boeing 707 over Elkton, Maryland. The strike ignited a fire in the fuel tank, causing an explosion that brought the plane down and killed all 81 passengers, according to USA Today. Nowadays, planes are much better protected against potential disasters that could be caused by electric sparks. Lightning strikes cause little to no damage to modern planes, which is a relief considering airliners get struck by lightning at least once a year, on average, per Lightning Eliminators.