787 lightning strike inspection

On average, every commercial aircraft is struck by lightning once or twice a year. After the aircraft lands, an inspection must always be performed to assess the state of the aircraft prior to return to service. The Boeing 787 is no exception and here you will learn the ins and outs of lightning strike inspections performed on this aircraft type.

The Boeing 787 was first unveiled on July 8th, 2003, the Boeing 787. It has been dubbed the “Dreamliner” and the aircraft first entered service with All Nippon Airways on October 26th, 2011. In the following years, it became a commercial success and so far, almost 1,000 aircraft have been delivered with more than 500 aircraft on order.

How often is a Boeing 787 hit by lightning?

In less than two decades, almost 1,000 aircraft have been delivered worldwide, proving the Boeing 787’s popularity.  

The Boeing 787 is struck three to four times a year by lightning which is twice as high as other typical aircraft types and given the global fleet, this results in 3,000 to 4,000 lightning strikes per year.

Picture Boeing 787 in take off

What is special about a Boeing 787 and lightning strikes?

Diagram showing Boeing 787 composite materials used on 787

All aircraft have protection measures from lightning strikes. What makes the Boeing 787 different is that it uses more composite materials such as carbon fibers. These materials are less conductive than aluminum, which causes more damage to the surface in the event of a lightning strike.

Has the Boeing 787 lightning protection changed over the years?

The Boeing 787 lightning protection consists mostly of carbon fibers. To disperse the electrical current from a lightning strike, a metal fastener has been sealed into the wing, complete with an insulating cap, and copper foil has been added in strips across the skin of the wing. In 2019, Boeing decided to remove the copper foil from the wing of the aircraft which were delivered between 2019 and 2020. The lightning protection change is now under discussion.  

Picture showing Aircraft lightning strike protection

Are there any incidents with a Boeing 787 caused by lightning strikes?

Picture showing lightning strike damage on Boeing 787

Despite the frequency of lightning strikes on the Boeing 787, no major aircraft incidents have occurred for the Boeing 787.  

In October 2014, a United Airlines aircraft got hit by a lightning strike in the cockpit window. It resulted in the loss of use of 3 of the 5 Head-Down Displays (HDD). The crew continued to use the Head-Up Display (HUD) and with no further consequences, the aircraft continued its flight to the airport. Boeing updated the systems software to reset and power on automatically after this incident. 

How many man-hours does it take to perform a lightning strike inspection on a Boeing 787?

After the aircraft is struck by lightning, the aircraft is grounded and thoroughly inspected for damage such as pits and burn marks by aircraft maintenance engineers to guarantee its airworthiness before the next flight. The inspection alone requires 3 licensed aircraft maintenance engineers and 12 hours to complete. The total man-hours for a Boeing 787 lightning strike inspection are 36 hours.

To assess the status of the aircraft, the aircraft maintenance engineers will move from station to station, from stringer to stringer, using additional equipment to inspect the top of the fuselage and the tail. The tail is 17 meters high and not easy to reach while the aircraft elevators and stabilizers are blocking the man lifter equipment. Often during the inspection, additional damage can be caused.

Photo of Aircraft maintenance mechanic with a flash light inspects plane fuselage in a hangar.
Aircraft maintenance mechanic with a flash light inspects plane fuselage in a hangar.

How does a drone fit in the aircraft lightning strike inspection process of a Boeing 787?

Picture showing Mainblades drone at Boeing aircraft

The use of drones for aircraft inspections brings game-changing results for the aviation industry and particularly Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) companies and organizations. All aspects of the inspection procedure, from drone flight to report generation, are automated, allowing the ground team to easily analyze and report the status of an aircraft.

In the event of a lightning strike, using a drone to perform aircraft inspection on the Boeing 787 can decrease the inspection time by 75%. A drone can speed up the entire process of the General Visual Inspection (GVI) during a lightning strike inspection, which can now be performed in minutes (60 minutes) instead of hours (12 hours). Our drone will safely fly around the aircraft and capture high-resolution pictures, allowing aircraft maintenance engineers to make a much faster damage assessment.

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787 lightning strike inspection