Innovation That Drives Safety
The typical commercial airplane is struck by lightning about once a year, and lightning is a threat to all structures, whether metallic or fiber reinforced composites. A single bolt of lightning can exceed 150,000 amps - enough energy to cause structural damage from resistive heat, melting or burning at attachment points, electro-magnetic force effects, acoustic shock, arcing or sparking at joints and the possible ignition of fuel tank vapors. Though sufficient lightning protection is already in place for all commercial aircraft, the effect of lightning on composite material (which is increasingly used in the construction of modern aircraft to reduce weight) is not as well understood as it is for the traditional materials it replaces.
University of South Carolina professor Ken Reifsnider, a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering as well as Scientific Advisory Board for the U.S. Air Force, engineers composites, such as polymer reinforced by carbon, fibers to make strong, lightweight materials for commercial aircraft. Dr. Reifsnider's decades of scholarly work, along with other research in composite materials at USC, has helped spawn a new "Lightning Response Laboratory", located at the USC SCRA Innovation Center and directed by Prasun Majumdar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The scope of this laboratory is very comprehensive, including synergistic multi-physics, and focuses on developing the next generation of engineered materials.
"To the best of our knowledge, this will only be the second such lightning response laboratory among all the universities in the U.S. and probably unique in its broad multi-faceted scope."
In addition to creating high-performing, lower-cost alternatives for materials used in the airline industry, Drs. Reifsnider and Majumdar's research at the Lightning Response Laboratory will help refine our understanding of how modern aircraft and other structures are affected by electrical storms. And aerospace industry giants are taking notice.