Airborne lightning detection system is ready to market

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A lightning strike assessment technology being developed under a €4.26 million ($6.22 million) European research project aims to improve understanding of how composite structures are affected by strikes.

While aluminium can cope with strikes because it is conductive, carbon composites have more limited conductivity. An aluminium or copper mesh embedded inside composites can spread the current from a lightning strike to prevent damage, but European industry and regulators want improved measurement of a strike's impact.

According to the project's manager Robert Zwemmer of the Netherland's National Aerospace Laboratory, the technology has near-term use in product development, for example during icing trials when an aircraft is frequently hit by lightning.

Another benefit of strike assessment technology could eventually be to help minimise flight delays by sending impact data ahead to maintenance centres during flight, allowing a more rapid post-landing analysis. Today, all lightning-struck aircraft are checked upon arrival.

The research used sensors that register the magnetic field generated by current flowing in an aircraft's skin following a lightning strike. The tests were conducted on an Airbus A320 with artificial lightning created in a specially equipped hangar in Toulouse.

The partners for this European Union sixth framework project, called In-flight Lightning Damage Assessment System, included Airbus, Air France Industries, Culham Lightning Eindhoven University of Technology, LA Composite and Lufthansa Technik.