NTS Pittsfield, formerly Lightning Technologies, Inc. (LTI), is among the newest members of the NTS family and is one of the world’s most complete simulated-lightning test laboratories. The specialized and unique equipment at NTS Pittsfield can duplicate all of the electrical characteristics of natural lightning as well as the transients it induces in electrical and electronic systems.
When an object is struck by lightning, it can instantly be heated to temperatures of 20,000°C or more and experience a jolt of electricity of 250,000+ amperes. But the problems aren’t restricted to direct hits; a component that’s up to a kilometer away from a lightning strike can suffer damage from the electromagnetic fields that travel through the earth. Knowing what kind of damage a component will sustain directly or indirectly from a lightning strike is a vital part of the design process. Engineers at NTS Pittsfield study the effects of lightning upon a structure or system by isolating the components of the lightning waveforms and electromagnetic fields and evaluating their effects through individual simulations.
The obvious field for this sort of testing is aeronautics because it’s imperative that aircraft continue to function after lightning strikes to ensure the safety of passengers and cargo. Mike Dargi, General Manager at NTS Pittsfield, explains. “What we do revolves around aircraft certification and studying the effects of direct lightning hits on components such as radomes, antennas, wing skins, fuel tanks, and areas on the fuselage. These need to be protected, and the protection needs to be verified.”
They also measure the indirect effects of lightning on aircraft and components. “We do testing on full aircraft by putting low-level lightning currents through the airframe and measuring the induced transients, voltages, and currents on the wiring. From these measurements we can determine if the shielding is adequate and can be certified.”
Mr. Dargi reports that other industries can benefit from lightning testing. “Since golf course irrigation systems are often computer controlled they can sustain damage by a direct or indirect lightning strike, so we work directly with the manufacturers of these types of systems. We also work on government ground-based radar installations, both on the engineering and testing sides, and we’ve tested the effects of lightning on buried fiber optics cable for the telcom industry.”
NTS Pittsfield has also done work for the entertainment field. “We’ve done some filming here for the Weather Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and a few others,” Mr. Dargi recalled. “Recently, we did some filming for a London production company working on a new program for Discovery about the Bermuda Triangle. A Cessna had disappeared there a number of years ago and they wanted to test some theories about how lightning may have led to a crash.” NTS Pittsfield has also worked with the Walt Disney Company to test attractions at EPCOT and Typhoon Lagoon, as well as the zip line that an actress portraying Tinker Bell rides during the nightly fireworks display in the Magic Kingdom.
The engineers at NTS Pittsfield are devoted professionals who bring both expertise and an insatiable curiosity about lightning and its effects to their work. Adds Mr. Dargi, “For our engineers, it’s not just a job or a career, it’s a passion.”
For further information on Direct and Indirect Lightning please visit http://www.nts.com/services/lightning.