Sponsor Message:
Aviation Technical / Operations Forum
My Starred Topics | Profile | New Topic | Forum Index | Help | Search 
Static Discharge Visible On The Windscreen?  
User currently offlineBio15 From Colombia, joined Mar 2001, 1089 posts, RR: 7
Posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 6664 times:

Hi everyone. I was lucky enough to visit the flightdeck while inflight on an MD-83 of my national carrier. It was during night time, and I saw a wonderful purple set of waving flashes along the center window frame. It looked just like the small dancing lightings seen on those metal spheres surrounded by a much larger crystal sphere. The pilot was the one that got me out of my perplexness and told me they were generated by the friction with the air. Has anyone seen this?

It got me thinking, why is this static not discharged by the static wicks on the wingtips? And one other thing, is this seen on other aircraft other than the DC9/MD80/90/717 series? I refer to these because they have a center window frame that strikes the air more directly than the others and probably that is why I only saw it on the center frame. Thanks in advance


11 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlineMxCtrlr From United States of America, joined Nov 2001, 2485 posts, RR: 32
Reply 1, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 6636 times:

That is more commonly referred to as "St. Elmo's Fire" and happens quite frequently (especially in clouds and storms). The static wicks can only dissipate so much static at one time so you see this on occasion. It's really quite harmless.

MxCtrlr  Smile/happy/getting dizzy
Freight Dogs Anonymous - O.O.T.S.K.  Smokin cool

DAMN! This SUCKS! I just had to go to the next higher age bracket in my profile! :-(
User currently offlineGoboeing From United States of America, joined Jun 2000, 2829 posts, RR: 14
Reply 2, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 6634 times:

Here is a good picture of St. Elmo's Fire:

View Large View Medium
Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © Jake

It's probably what you saw so that's why I put that picture up. I've never seen it, but the basic description I know is that it's an electrical discharge and usually occurs during thunderstorms. That must have been exciting to see!


User currently offlineCx flyboy From Hong Kong, joined Dec 1999, 6811 posts, RR: 55
Reply 3, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 6620 times:

It looks like those glass spheres you get in the novelty shops with the static discharge against tha glass. I see it every few months, but instead of being a continuous streak, it comes in flashes against the cockpit windscreen and is completely harmless.

User currently offlineBroke From United States of America, joined Apr 2002, 1325 posts, RR: 3
Reply 4, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 6543 times:

I've have the opportunity to see St. Elmo's Fire on the windshield twice, both times I was riding the jump seat on an airliner.
The first time (727-200), I was a little startled and asked the crew if that was St. Elmo's Fire and they said it was.
The second time was a little more humourous, I was on a DC-9 and I guess St. Elmo's Fire was something new to the F/O. He almost came out of his seat and would have had to climb over me to get out of the cockpit. The captain and I shared some grins. It's fun to be able to share an inside joke.

User currently offlineEALBuff From United States of America, joined Jun 2002, 27 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 6500 times:

I've seen it several times over the years flying as crewmember in Navy P-3's. Typically, it occurs when flying in the vicinity of thunderstorms, in air that is colder and drier than normal. It can be quite spectacular, covering the nearly all of the cockpit windows. Even the props show signs of it, mostly around the spinners. Also, I heard of several stories where it got so bad that it formed a ball of static electricity that went through the window and entered the airplane. It then harmlessly floated down the cabin, either dissipating or exiting the rear of the aircraft.

User currently offlineBio15 From Colombia, joined Mar 2001, 1089 posts, RR: 7
Reply 6, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 6457 times:

Thanks for the responses. The picture shows exactly what I saw, good to learn it's nickname  Smile Now that you mention it, I do recall seeing lighting around us so we were close to thunderstorms.

Funny story about the FO who hadn't seen it before. It must be creepy to se such thing in your aircraft when you think you've seen it all!

Good Luck

User currently offlineMlsrar From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 1417 posts, RR: 8
Reply 7, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 2 days ago) and read 6442 times:

It then harmlessly floated down the cabin, either dissipating or exiting the rear of the aircraft.

It floated? Wouldn't it move rather quickly? (Forgive me, as I know nothing of the dynamics of static electricity, though I figured it would have moved quite quickly)

I mean, for the right price I’ll fight a lion. - Mike Tyson
User currently offlineEALBuff From United States of America, joined Jun 2002, 27 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 6428 times:

Mlsrar, Sorry I can't further define 'quickly', I can only presume it was an event that was over in less than minute. First time I heard this story, I was skeptical, thinking it was some kind of aviation folklore. But over the years, I heard similar stories from several sources, so while I am also no static electricity expert, I've come to believe this is a rare, but possible phenomenon.

User currently offlineAirplay From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 9, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 1 day 18 hours ago) and read 6392 times:

Electrical bonding and static wicks are designed to handle the static charges generated by any amount of buildup on the airframe. Unfortunately, the static wicks can't do their jobs if bonding of the airframe is compromised.

This phenomenom is typically limited to structures that aren't properly bonded. Glass is an excellent insulator and special procedures are required to maintain a conductive coating on the glass. The windscreen often gets neglected.

Some composite structures suffer the same types of discharges. Unfortunately, it damages composite material by creating microscopic damage. Glass doesn't usually get damaged.

[Edited 2003-11-21 05:20:15]

User currently offlineMusang From United Kingdom, joined Apr 2001, 920 posts, RR: 6
Reply 10, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 6355 times:

First time I saw it was in a Cessna 208 Caravan, and the Captain told me to put my finger close to the windshield so as to conduct it. The pink sparks jumped to my nervous finger from about three inches range.

Much later, we've seen it in ATRs and Avro RJs, where it was white. Maybe the composition of the transparencies affects the colour?

Regards - Musang

User currently offlineVimanav From India, joined Jul 2003, 1538 posts, RR: 14
Reply 11, posted (12 years 6 months 6 days 13 hours ago) and read 6278 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

St. Elmo's Fire is named after St. Elmo - the patron saint of sailors. It usually appeared around mast heads of ships during the fag end of a thunderstorm and was taken to indicate the coming of good weather and hence a good omen.

St. Elmo's Fire is caused by the air immediately above the point of discharge being excited by the electricity, St. Elmo's Fire is actually a kind of plasma. Plasma is a fourth state of matter, where the atoms of the gas are stripped of their electrons, creating a distinctive glow of certain precise wavelengths, and being able to conduct electricity to some extent. Since air is a very good insulator, a massive potential difference is required to start St. Elmo's Fire, which explains why the phenomenon is most commonly observed during thunderstorms. Sometimes, crackling and hissing sounds occur. St. Elmo's Fire can also cause radio disturbances.

They are spectacular and harmless.


Sarfaroshi kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil mein hai, Dekhnaa hai zor kitnaa baazu-e-qaatil mein hai
Top Of Page
Forum Index

Reply To This Topic Static Discharge Visible On The Windscreen?
No username? Sign up now!

Forgot Password? Be reminded.
Remember me on this computer (uses cookies)
  • Tech/Ops related posts only!
  • Not Tech/Ops related? Use the other forums
  • No adverts of any kind. This includes web pages.
  • No hostile language or criticizing of others.
  • Do not post copyright protected material.
  • Use relevant and describing topics.
  • Check if your post already been discussed.
  • Check your spelling!
Add Images Add SmiliesPosting Help

Please check your spelling (press "Check Spelling" above)

Similar topics:More similar topics...
Tri-motor - What's That On The Wing? posted Thu Nov 9 2006 00:50:53 by TimePilot
What Are These Intakes For On The 777? posted Wed Nov 1 2006 04:13:28 by Gh123
Established On The Localizer, When? posted Fri Oct 13 2006 02:00:12 by IAHFLYR
PW4056 On The 744 posted Tue Oct 3 2006 18:27:23 by Qantas744ER
What Is This Lump On The 737? posted Sun Oct 1 2006 13:18:37 by Monteycarlos
"descend On The Ils" Question posted Mon Sep 25 2006 21:42:28 by JulianUK
MD-80 Elevator Position On The Ground posted Mon Aug 28 2006 18:17:01 by ALbyDAL
Alpha Speed - Whats The History On The Name posted Wed Aug 16 2006 14:11:08 by HAWK21M
What's This Little Hump On The 747? posted Sat Jul 22 2006 18:48:45 by Alphafloor
What Is This On The Archer? posted Fri Jul 14 2006 21:16:22 by Sushka

Sponsor Message:
Printer friendly format