Have you ever wondered what would happen to a drone if it gets struck by lightning? Well if you hadn’t before, you probably are now since you’re here. YouTuber Tom Scott also wondered what would happen so he decided to try and find out.
Tom took two DJI Phantom 3 drones to the University of Manchester’s High Voltage Laboratory for an experiment. Thanks to an impulse generator, the British university’s lab can generate a bolt of lightning that cab reach over 1 million volts.
During the first test, a Phantom 3 was tied to the ground (to ensure it wouldn’t fly out of the bolt’s path) and struck with more than 1 million volts of electricity. The lightning strike went through the drone, and the drone was done for.
According to Enna Bartlett (digital coordinator of the University), “The electricity passed straight through, flowing from one of the propellers to exit through the foot of the drone.” “Surprisingly there were no visible marks on the outside of the drone, but the electricity fried all the sensitive internal electronics.”
During the second test, electrical engineering researchers Vidyadhar Peesapati and Richard Gardner tried to protect the second drone. Rather than tether the drone to the ground, the researchers added a copper lightning rod made of copper tape to act as a conductor.
The copper tape was intended to attract the lightning at the highest point on the drone, but the propellers were still equally as tall (and attractive) to the bolt. During the second test the drone came out in worse shape than the first test. The props were explosively pulled away from the drone due to the force of the lightning strike.
The test did have its benefits other than an awesome YouTube video. According to Bartlett, “With our understanding of how airplanes behave in thunderstorms and how to provide protection for them; this knowledge could be applied to drone technology to make sure drones and drone pilots stay safe if they fly in unfavorable weather conditions.”