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Aluminium lightning protection for composite aircraft

TWI has been working with AVIC Composites Corporation (ACC) to develop a Lightning Strike Protection (LSP) system for composite aircraft.

ACC approached TWI as it has significant experience in developing thermal spray aluminium (TSA) coating technology for the protection of polymer composite aerospace structures from lightning strike. As a result, TWI developed a well-defined thermal spray coating procedure for the application of LSP coating systems on carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) aircraft for ACC.

In the project, TWI compared the ACC and LSP systems and validated procedures for application onto ACC carbon fibre reinforced polymer used in commercial aircraft manufacture.

The work involved studying the effects of process parameters on coating performance on carbon-reinforced polymer, including surface preparation, process/target efficiency, coating microstructure, roughness, oxygen content, adhesion and thermal shock resistance. The lightning strike performance was also evaluated.

The TWI project team identified the process parameters that have the greatest influence on key coating characteristics, and provided ACC with a well-defined thermal spray coating procedure for application of LSP coating systems for CFRP aircraft.

On completion of these trials ACC installed a three-stage automated facility, comprising grit blasting, thermal spraying and painting for the application of coatings on composites for lightning strike management capability, and work continues to move the process up the technology readiness level scale for manufacturing.

For more information, please email

Avatar Melissa Riley Principal Project Leader - Surface Engineering

Dr Melissa Riley has a B.Med.Sc degree and PhD in Metallurgy and Materials from the University of Birmingham and is Principal Project Leader within TWI’s Surface Engineering team. She has worked at TWI for over 17 years on a wide range of projects for TWI’s Industrial Members relating to the development and application of thermal spray coatings, including HVOF spraying. Her work has included application and performance evaluation of wear and corrosion resistant coatings (including for biomass and waste to energy plants), ceramic coatings, bearing materials and more novel coatings and applications, including leading TWI’s work on the development of coatings on composites. She has also been instrumental in setting up a number of new facilities to assess coating performance and to support TWI Members in the upscaling and manufacturing development of surface engineering technologies for industrial applications. Melissa is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining.