Simulating Lightning Strikes on Aircraft with SIMULIA CST

In this article learn how aerospace engineers are designing better aircraft by simulating lightning strikes to determine the electromagnetic and thermal effects on an airframe.

Aircraft, the marvels of modern engineering, soar through the skies navigating through unpredictable weather conditions. Among the many challenges they face, one of the most formidable is the threat posed by lightning strikes. With advancements in aerospace technology and materials, the methods for ensuring the safety of aircraft in the face of lightning strikes have evolved. One such advancement is the use of simulation software like SIMULIA CST to accurately model and predict the behavior of lightning strikes on aircraft. 

Understanding the Challenge 

On average, commercial airliners encounter lightning strikes approximately once a year. While traditional aircraft construction using metals like aluminum and titanium provided inherent protection due to their conductivity, the shift towards lightweight composite materials like carbon fiber presents new challenges. These materials are less conductive, requiring a deeper understanding of how lightning interacts with the aircraft’s structure and electronic systems. 

The Role of Simulation 

Physical testing with full-sized prototypes is challenging, and scaled-down models often fail to capture the intricacies of lightning behavior. This is where electromagnetic (EM) simulation with a digital mock-up (DMU) becomes invaluable. By simulating lightning zoning and attachment analysis, engineers can identify the areas of the aircraft most susceptible to lightning strikes. This knowledge informs subsequent transient analysis, which captures the rapid increase, peak, and decay phases of a lightning strike. 

Key Features of SIMULIA CST 

SIMULIA CST offers a comprehensive suite of tools tailored for simulating lightning strikes on aircraft. Its electrostatic simulation capabilities help pinpoint areas of high electric field concentration, guiding engineers in designing effective lightning protection systems. Time domain EM simulation accurately captures the transient behavior of lightning pulses, allowing for detailed analysis of current flow and electric fields within the aircraft’s structure. 

Furthermore, SIMULIA CST facilitates multiphysics simulation, integrating electromagnetic and thermal analyses to assess the heating effects of lightning strikes on the airframe. By simulating electric losses and temperature changes, engineers can verify the integrity of materials and ensure compliance with stringent safety standards. 

Beyond Aircraft: Applications in Other Industries 

While aircraft are the primary focus, the principles of lightning simulation can be extended to other structures susceptible to lightning strikes. Ships, rockets, wind turbines, broadcasting towers, and buildings all benefit from EM simulation to assess lightning vulnerability and enhance safety measures. 

Conclusion on Simulating Lightning Strikes on aircraft

In an era where aircraft design and safety standards continue to evolve, simulation software like SIMULIA CST plays a crucial role in mitigating the risks associated with lightning strikes. By providing engineers with a virtual testing environment, it enables comprehensive analysis and optimization of lightning protection systems. As technology advances, so too does our ability to ensure the safety and reliability of aircraft, ensuring passengers can fly with confidence even amidst the fury of nature’s elements. 

Learn more about SIMULIA CST

To delve deeper into SIMULIA CST, explore our white paper. In it, we discuss how regulatory bodies such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establish safety regulations for aircraft operating in electromagnetic environments, particularly those susceptible to lightning. The whitepaper also explores how, despite this, conventional aircraft testing encounters obstacles like high expenses, time limitations, and the necessity for physical prototypes, resulting in costly design modifications during later development stages.