A variety of innovative airborne concepts are being developed to capture the wind energy available at higher altitudes, facilitate wireless communication and provide heavy lift capability. These airborne systems will be in close proximity to cloud cover and exposed to increased risk of lightning strikes. A two-dimensional physics based formulation that was recently developed to investigate the potential field behavior about circular sections was used to develop uniform and tapered cylindrical elements. These elements were then combined to approximate the total charge and lightning behavior about an airborne wind turbine and a heavy lift airship. Surface electrical charge and lightning collection area are developed as a function of elevation, body shape, cloud cover and leader properties. The surface charge density is utilized to compute the degree of field intensification on the body periphery in order to determine the level of susceptibility of the airborne system to lightning strikes. It was observed that as airborne bodies move closer to the thundercloud the ambient potential field becomes more highly perturbed and leads to greater risk of lightning strikes. The lightning collection area was shown to increase with elevation of the airborne body and decrease with increase in the leader propagation angle.
Keywords: Lightning strikes, physics based formulation, electric potential field, composite shapes, surface electrical charge, lightning collection area, strike frequency