I’m often asked “just how tough is the 787’s composite skin?” The answer is “very tough.” And here’s proof.
One of our customers recently had a lightning strike that was so intense—it probably would have punched through an aluminum airplane and required a bolted-on repair. But the damage on the 787 was just a small square on the outer layer that was quickly patched with nothing more than speed tape before it was later repaired. That’s exactly the way we designed the airplane to react to a lightning strike.
Our employees in Everett and South Carolina recently streamlined the testing involved with our lightning protection system. To test the system, teams now use special suitcases outfitted with sophisticated test equipment to measure electrical bonding. The automated test equipment replaces manual testing operations. With the new system, employees hook up equipment to an electrical path on the airplane and the test validates whether the joint or connection can successfully carry the current that results from a lightning strike.
787 mechanic Howard Bailey (center), hooks up test equipment to check electrical bonding on the Dreamliner in Everett. He’s flanked here by Jillian Cross (left), project manager, and Bryan Durr, Production Test Manufacturing Engineering manager. (Gail Hanusa photo)
Testing is performed on every 787 prior to flight to ensure all protection components are installed in accordance with type design. The Dreamliner’s design ensures that currents are safely carried away from the airplane during a storm so they don’t impact the structure or the systems. This new automated testing significantly cuts down on the previous manual testing and will play a key role as we continue to ramp up production on the 787.