Atmospheric Science hall displays at the University at Albany

Lightning hazards - Aircraft safety - Boeing 707 wingtip with lightning strike damage
Faculty interested in the physics of thunderstorm electrification, lightning generation and discharge, and related phenomena have formed part of the Atmospheric Sciences department since its inception. This group have also been involved in studies of the reduction of lighning strike hazards, and were the first to develop an automated regional lightning strike mapping system, which subsequently was enlarged and integrated into the national lightning detection system.
At the west end of the Earth Science building at the University at Albany, the wingtip of a Boeing 707 is mounted on the wall. This was part of a Pan American aircraft that was struck by lightning at about 5000ft. altitude while in a holding pattern for landing at Philadelphia on 8th December 1963. This event caused the fuel vapor in the wing fuel tank to ignite, and the aircraft broke up and crashed. The wingtip on display shows several patches where the aluminum sheet of the wing surface was vaporized by the intense local heating caused by the lightning discharge. As a result of the investigation of this incident, aircraft design was improved (among other things by more thorough electrical bonding of metal parts) to reduce the hazard of in-flight lightning strikes. The late Professor Bernard Vonnegut, who was a member of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, was an expert on lightning and helped in the investigation of the crash.
There are still good reasons based on knowledge of atmospheric science, besides the hazard of lightning, for aircraft to stay away from thunderstorms, especially when flying at low speeds and low altitude, such as on approach to landing, because localised strong downdrafts and abrupt changes in wind direction (so-called microbursts, and wind shear) commonly occur in association with thunderstorms.
Pan Am Boeing 707 wingtip
The port wingtip of the Pan Am Boeing 707 showing vaporized patches of the wingskin aluminum (small black arrows 3cm long point toward these) caused by a large lightning strike while the aircraft was in flight near a thunderstorm. More detailed views of the right-hand lower part are shown below.
rear portion of the 707 wingtip showing lightning damagevaporised patch in the 707 wingskin aluminum caused by lightning strike
Origin and history of the Atmospheric Sciences at Albany
pages on Bernard Vonnegut
Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences