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In November, one top safety-engineering team expressed serious concern.
That team's internal review, obtained by The Seattle Times, concluded: "It cannot be shown that the current wing-lightning-protection approach will preclude ignition sources in the fuel tank."
• And, in case the efforts to shut out ignition sources fail, Boeing will install a nitrogen-generating system (NGS) that reduces flammable vapor in the wing tanks by filling the space above the fuel with inert gas.
Typically, a bolt moves backward across a wing or fuselage before the charge exits to the ground milliseconds later. At the point of entry on a metal skin, the aluminum can melt, leaving a pitted surface or a small hole.
"You can't hit aluminum with 200,000 amps and expect nothing to happen," Gillette said. "But it's not a safety-of-flight issue."
In 1963, over Elkton, Md., 81 people died when the fuel tank of a Pan Am 707 exploded in flight, apparently after being struck by lightning. In 1976 near Madrid, Spain, all 17 people aboard an Iranian Air Force 747 jumbo jet died when a lightning strike to the wingtip ignited the jet fuel and blew the wing apart.