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 Airbus A350 is no exception and here you will learn the ins and outs of lightning strike inspections performed on this aircraft type.
Over the years Airbus has delivered a total of 370 aircraft to major airlines all over the world. It is one of the most popular aircraft worldwide.
The Airbus A350 is struck once or twice a year by lightning and given the global fleet in the world, this results in 400 to 800 lightning strikes per year.
Both the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 consist of composite materials in more than 50% of their overall structures. The motivation for using composite materials is because they possess superior properties when compared to metallic materials, such as lighter weight, better corrosion and fatigue resistance, and lower thermal expansion.
Airbus suggested Boeing’s use of composite materials for the 787 fuselages was premature, and that the new A350 XWB was to feature large carbon fiber panels for the main fuselage skin. After facing criticism for maintenance costs, Airbus confirmed in early September 2007 the adoption of composite fuselage frames for the aircraft structure. The composite frames would feature aluminum strips to ensure the electrical continuity of the fuselage (for dissipating lightning strikes). Airbus used a full mockup fuselage to develop the wiring, a different approach from the A380, on which the wiring was all done on computers.
In the development phase, the A350 systems were tested and monitored by the Dutch innovation company called Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR). They developed the In-Flight Lightning Damage Assessment System (ILDAS) for this purpose. ILDAS is a special measurement system that records the lightning currents on airborne commercial aircraft. For this system, NLR developed the advanced measurement electronics that convert electrical signals into digital data, placing the sensors on the inside of the cabin.
The challenge for ILDAS’s designers and developers was to devise a system that would not fail at the critical moment, thus recording accurate measurements during lightning strikes. This was accomplished during the icing test flights. NLR constructed 13 data acquisition units for the A350 prototype, which were installed throughout the fuselage and measured the electrical and magnetic fields. When the system detected that lightning struck the aircraft, all units immediately conducted highly synchronized measurements, and then quickly saved the data before the next occurrence.
Despite the frequency of lightning strikes on the Airbus A350, no major aircraft incidents have occurred for the Airbus A350.
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 an Airbus A350 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.
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 Airbus A350 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.