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St.Elmo's fire in light aircraft.

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St.Elmo's fire in light aircraft.

Old 17th Mar 2019, 21:38
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St.Elmo's fire in light aircraft.

So, a first for me tonight, little blue flashes along leading edges. Stormscope had strikes about 30km away, but clearly there was more electrical activity nearer by.

Anyone else had this?

Sam.
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Old 17th Mar 2019, 21:57
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Yes it means your on the brown side of the envelope for weird stuff to start happening.

It means the air is charged to hell and potential is there for it to uncharge.
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Old 17th Mar 2019, 23:52
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In the old days, flying the Aztec through heavy winter snow in Ontario, I could hold my fingers close to the windshield, and blue "sparks" would stream from my fingertips to the windshield like a plasma ball. One night I did it, and an unaware passenger in the back shrieked in alarm! I stopped doing it, my job was to transport the passengers happily!
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Old 18th Mar 2019, 08:18
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So whilst this is not (I think) a desirable situation to be in (safety-wise), is it:
  • Not too bad
  • High risk
  • Dangerous
  • You'll be lucky to survive
I will admit to simply not knowing, would appreciate guidance!

Thanks, Sam.
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Old 18th Mar 2019, 12:34
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Originally Posted by Sam Rutherford View Post
So whilst this is not (I think) a desirable situation to be in (safety-wise), is it:
  • Not too bad
  • High risk
  • Dangerous
  • You'll be lucky to survive
I will admit to simply not knowing, would appreciate guidance!

Thanks, Sam.
I'd say it's the caregory you didn't include, namely No hazard whatsoever. It's only ionized air and shows that there are electrical charges present but St Elmo's fire frequently occurs in the absence of nearby thunderstorms for instance so where's the hazard? Having said that it is also common in or close to Cbs. The discharges are cold so cannot ignite anyhting. I associate them with flight in cold cloud, particularly in falling snow or ice crystals, don't think I've ever seen it in completely clear air though I believe it can happen.
Any risk would be from the met conditions that it is associated with and perhaps from simple pilot distraction as it's mesmerisingly beautiful.
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Old 18th Mar 2019, 17:16
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Just ionized air, no problem at all unless you are a moving map addicted and get into trouble when the GPS stops working in this conditions - it highly likely will.
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 08:52
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The very first time I ever got airborne at night was with St Elmo's fire all over the place - magic; I thought night flying was always like that!
(Jet Provost, 1969)
Sadly, I've never seen it since, despite a rather full professional flying career in those intervening 50 years.
Disappointed; certainly.
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 09:30
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I wouldn't go for no hazard at all.

As I said the brown side of weird stuff happening. Plus quiet often your inside cloud when it starts happening which is lovely until you look down an see that 5 kts of airspeed have gone because of airframe icing.

As said GPS's start giving up.. Radios can stop receiving because the auto sqwelch has increased so much that the signal you actually want to listen to is muted as well.

Your not suddenly going to drop out of the sky when you see it.... but be prepared for weird stuff to start happening.
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 17:08
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On balance though, not really a concern - thanks!

I wonder when/if I'll ever see it again - typical I was solo at the time...
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 17:15
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Every time I have seen it the next thing that happens is the very loud bang of a lightning strike.
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 17:19
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as wrecker says Sam you nearly always get it before a big bang of a strike. But you don't always get a hit when you see it. I might be a part of the world thing and local wx conditions.

Personally enough weird stuff has happened when I have seen it that I am quiet happy never to see it again in the air and if I want to play with it, a plasma ball for 20$ on the ground I will be more than happy with.
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 17:25
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wrecker And that is how many times in total? That you've seen this effect and been hit by lightning?
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 17:31
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I have been hit 4 times if that helps sam and I have seen St elmos fire maybe 20 times. With 5 times nothing weird happened.
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 17:32
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In light aircraft? (as per thread title)
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Old 19th Mar 2019, 21:17
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No aircraft experience, but at home, on a 100' north facing cliff, with CBs on a northerly wind.
My W XP computer crashed for the first time, with the modem burned out, in January 2007, when St. Elmo's Fire was seen on the houses and telephone poles in the village.
Neighbours had sparks coming from their keyboards to their fingers, and also lost their computers. A few minutes later lightning struck a house about 1/2 mile downwind.
I have suspicions about the vulnerability of light aircraft electronics in such a situation.
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Old 20th Mar 2019, 17:51
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It doesn't really matter what size it is. I was hit once in a C172 blew a hole in the rudder. Light aircraft tend not to have the same bonding that TP's have. The less protection you have on the Electrics the more issues you can have.
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Old 20th Mar 2019, 20:13
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One specific lightning strike was in a cb in a wooden glider picking up ice at a hell of a rate and was preceded by a display of St Elmo's fire.
The other St Elmo's displays have been mainly in ice crystal cloud (anvils). As to frequency of strikes/St Elmo, events subjectivley a 1:3 ratio.
Of course volcanic dust is known to cause spectacular St Elmo's events.
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Old 25th Mar 2019, 17:38
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So, clearly no consensus here - with extremes of:
  1. Harmless, wish it happened more.
  2. Death is imminent.
Is there anything 'formal' on the subject?

Thanks, Sam.
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Old 25th Mar 2019, 20:01
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I suspect there isn't enough data. Only recently have light aircraft had much electronics which would affect safety if lost. Few of these have encountered St. Elmo. There was a Cirrus in the US which had a problem near/in a thunderstorm. No injuries.
There is great variation in lightning strikes. The UK glider where the control rods melted is an example. There's probably also a variation in St. Elmo's.
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Old 25th Mar 2019, 20:19
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sam you obviously want to go flying in it.

Crack on and learn the hard way.....##Very few people die because of strikes... so go for it.... just don't bill us lot for cleaning you pants and if you get nappy rash getting the kite back on the ground with a full shite load down there..... tough you have been warned
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