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Weird Weather Encounter

Old 05-17-2022, 08:36 PM
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What do you think this was? I was flying around some heavy weather taking off out of Medellin. Night IMC, lightning flashing all over the place. We were on the SID because of all the terrain and had to fly into the green/yellow radar returns. We were getting nonstop St. Elmo’s Fire. Then all of the sudden, our radome lit up like a Christmas tree. A continuous cone shaped plume of purple/pink glowing plasma engulfed the windshield. It literally looked like we were the space shuttle reentering the atmosphere from space. I don’t think it was a lightning strike because there was no evidence of anything on the walk-around and it wasn’t a quick flash... it was a constant almost “blow torch” look. Any ideas?
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Old 05-17-2022, 09:02 PM
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Originally Posted by CH1203 View Post
What do you think this was? I was flying around some heavy weather taking off out of Medellin. Night IMC, lightning flashing all over the place. We were on the SID because of all the terrain and had to fly into the green/yellow radar returns. We were getting nonstop St. Elmo’s Fire. Then all of the sudden, our radome lit up like a Christmas tree. A continuous cone shaped plume of purple/pink glowing plasma engulfed the windshield. It literally looked like we were the space shuttle reentering the atmosphere from space. I don’t think it was a lightning strike because there was no evidence of anything on the walk-around and it wasn’t a quick flash... it was a constant almost “blow torch” look. Any ideas?
Ball lightning and/or St. Elmo’s fire. I’ve had both experiences.

https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/20...0308D/abstract

https://youtu.be/P1luqXNqC1c

Last edited by Excargodog; 05-17-2022 at 09:17 PM.
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Old 05-17-2022, 09:45 PM
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Swamp gas.
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Old 05-17-2022, 10:40 PM
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In a former life I did atmospheric research, flying in and out of thunderstorms, and saw a lot of interesting electrical activity around the aircraft, and in the aircraft.

What you're describing sounds similar to something I experienced about fifteen years ago in an area where there was considerable airborne dust, but no convective activity. I became aware of a soft blue glow from several points outside the cockpit, which became brighter until they formed what looked somewhat like those dancing tube guys that you see at car dealerships, waving in a flickering pattern ahead of the aircraft; at that point they were a greenish glow that had a simliar hue and appearance to the Aurora, a little like dancing flames extending off in three radials, or lobes. They gradually merged from the radome area, extending forward, in what seemed to be about twenty five or thirty feet ahead; I can't really say because it would have been hard to give a definitive answer. Somewhere out ahead. At that point, the one lobe was about the circumference of the radome, and increasing in intensity toward a yellowish hue. I was on the edge of my seat, fascinated, as I'd never seen anything like it.

A loud crack or report sounded, which accompanied a blinding white flash, like a lightning strike. In lightning, turn the cockpit lights bright. I'd turned everything down so I could get a better view. I was unable to see my hand in front of my face. I asked my compadre if he saw it, and he mumbled "uh-huh." I noted I was blind, and asked if he could see. He mumbled, "nope." Our vision returned shortly after that, and we joined an approach and landed. The event occurred at night. On the ground, I found holes and burn marks all over the radome, fuselage, wingtips, and numerous other places. Ultimately, the engines were removed, the airplane and engines degaussed, and the aircraft returned to service.

I was given some heat about allowing a lightning strike and accused of putting the airplane in the position to be struck, in a thunder cell. In that case, there was no cell anywhere in the area, nor did anything show on radar leading up to the event, which I'd describe as a massive discharge. No further signs were obvious, or occurred after the discharge. I strongly suspected the higher dust content where we were flying, helped contribute.

Some time later I had a conversation with someone in the maintenance about the event. "Didn't anyone tell you?" he asked. The aircraft had been painted, and bonding straps and discharge wicks placed over the paint, with no electrical bond. The paint was never removed from the bonding sites, meaning that the aircraft built a charge that it couldn't dissipate, until the charge finally passed through control hinge points, engines, etc, causing considerable damage. The flight control hinges were burned.

I can't speculate as to why you saw what you did, but there are numerous manifestations of electrical charge around aircraft, which range from the familiar corona or St. Elmo's dancing around or flickering, to discharges around the structure, buildup of a glow or corona around various components such as radomes, engine inlets, propellers, etc, to discharges which can occur within the cabin, or visible manifestation of electrical arcing or progress through the interior.

So far as those. yellow and green returns go; be aware that some of the worst I've experienced in a thunderstorm wasn't in the red and magenta parts, though we flew back and forth through some massive cells; the worst I ever experienced was in the black and green on the upshear, or building side of a cell, and it was rising moist air from beneath the aricraft (we estimated 12,000 fpm rising), which rolled me inverted, caused a shaker and then a pusher activation, and broke things on board, including my headset, and a computer chassis in a case...stripped a drive right out of the chassis. We're all aware of radar shadows, where returns can obscure what is beyond through attenuation, but there's bad stuff above and below, depending on where you are. Don't forget use of your tilt, and remember that even in returns that look not-so-bad like simple Level 1-2 returns, it may herald something that far exceeds the capability of the aircraft to respond. Been there. Don't you go there. Have an out, and always consider a divert, if needed. Extra fuel is a good thing.
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Old 05-18-2022, 06:34 AM
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Leaving STX at night in a 727 a long time ago, climbing out with rainshowers around. We get a ding ding ding from the back. FA says what was that. We didn't see or hear anything. FA says lightning hit one wingtip, came in the window and went up and down the aisle and out the other wingtip. Nobody hurt. No sign of problems in the cockpit so we press on but I still remember opening the door to a dark cabin with the largest, white eyeballs all staring up front. Found both wingtip taillights melted on postflight.
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Old 05-18-2022, 07:28 AM
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I saw her hanging onto my airplane once. She said, "Handsome, pretty handsome Googles Pisano"
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Old 05-18-2022, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by 1wife2airlines View Post
Leaving STX at night in a 727 a long time ago, climbing out with rainshowers around. We get a ding ding ding from the back. FA says what was that. We didn't see or hear anything. FA says lightning hit one wingtip, came in the window and went up and down the aisle and out the other wingtip. Nobody hurt. No sign of problems in the cockpit so we press on but I still remember opening the door to a dark cabin with the largest, white eyeballs all staring up front. Found both wingtip taillights melted on postflight.
My mom was a flight attendant for Northwest Orient and has a similar story about ball lightning. She said it went from the front to the back down the aisle, and when they called the flight deck after it happened the pilots had no idea anything was out of the ordinary.
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Old 05-21-2022, 06:39 AM
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Cool discussion. Here's an article on ball lightning and aircraft. Also props to JohnBurke for his reliably solid contributions to discussions.

An Initiation of Ball Lightning in an Aircraft
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Old 05-31-2022, 08:24 AM
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Thanks for posting that article! It fills in a lot of details. Very cool.

Originally Posted by hydrostream View Post
My mom was a flight attendant for Northwest Orient and has a similar story about ball lightning. She said it went from the front to the back down the aisle, and when they called the flight deck after it happened the pilots had no idea anything was out of the ordinary.
I asked my mom about this since I haven’t heard the story in about 20 years. I was remembering it wrong.

She said it was a ferry flight. Door to the cockpit was open and the ball went front to back rather quickly. She was surprised when I told her that it’s quite rare to see.
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Old 05-31-2022, 01:15 PM
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Arcing and discharges can certainly occur within the aircraft, as well as without. I have seen this in aircraft, and in vehicles on the ground. I was involved in recovery of an aircraft on a mountainside, offroad, with the vehicle parked nearby. With severe thunderstorm activity in the area and a lot of lightning, I decided to get off the mountain. The vehicle was full of tools, and when I entered the vehicle, large arcs were snapping between objects inside, between tools and implements; it wasn't associated with a lightning strike on the vehicle, but there was a lot of discharging going on. There was a strong smell of ozone. The arcs were bright, some made a snapping or sizzle sound, some none. I had concern about stepping into the vehicle or touching it to open a door, because of the perception of a potential path to ground through me; a door was open and I dove into it; whether a shock hazard existed or not, I can't say, but I didn't want to find out, and I didn't want to stay on the mountainside.

While that kind of arcing was bright and intense in appearance, mostly whiteish or yellow-white, the corona I've seen in and around aircraft is typically blue or green, sometimes reddish, with typical st. elmos and other such arcing is usually a yellow, white, or bluish tint. All fairly low intensity, and don't tend to disrupt night vision. Large discharges like previously described are much brighter, and can be accompanied by loud noise. When "ball lightning" is encountered in homes, in vehicles, and in aircraft, it's typically seen as a low-intensity lighting, rather than bright, usually comes with no sound or a low hiss or sizzle, and moves much more slowly than a typical lightning strike or high intensity discharge. It doesn't tend to disrupt night vision. It's isolated, meaning it has. beginning and an end, like a traveling ball of energy; more like a plasma than a beam of light. I believe such discharges or manifestations are more of a visible passing of a corona along a path to ground, between wingtips, down the aisle, etc.

If one has flown behind propellers in the right conditions at night, one has probably seen the prop tips, and the arc, blow green or blue, along with wingtips, radomes, antennas, wipers, and so on. We've probably all seen st. elmo's.

An aircraft structure, because of bonding and an electrical ground path almost almost everywhere on the aircraft, is a big faraday cage, of sorts, largely transporting large electrical paths through the structure, rather than the interior; any passage of electricity through the interior would have to be a very intensive discharge and path, with a bright flash, and rapid movement; such a path would appear instantaneous, no indication of travel in one direction or the other, would be loud, and heat the air around it, and cause damage. Lower intensity discharges that have visible, defined movement, color, and don't bear the characteristics of a lightning bolt are usually the result of static buildup on the exterior, moving between points of polarity on the structure, along a path that might be anything with a lower resistance than the surrounding air.

When flying in significant electrical activity, I've often wondered about the potential to be a path to ground through the flight controls while holding a yoke or stick. Zap.
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