Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
 | Highlight paper
30 Apr 2013
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 30 Apr 2013

Possible effects on avionics induced by terrestrial gamma-ray flashes

M. Tavani, A. Argan, A. Paccagnella, A. Pesoli, F. Palma, S. Gerardin, M. Bagatin, A. Trois, P. Picozza, P. Benvenuti, E. Flamini, M. Marisaldi, C. Pittori, and P. Giommi

Abstract. Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) are impulsive (intrinsically sub-millisecond) events associated with lightning in powerful thunderstorms. TGFs turn out to be very powerful natural accelerators known to accelerate particles and generate radiation up to hundreds of MeV energies. The number ratio of TGFs over normal lightning has been measured in tropical regions to be near 10−4. We address in this Article the issue of the possible susceptibility of typical aircraft electronics exposed to TGF particle, gamma ray and neutron irradiation. We consider possible scenarios regarding the intensity, the duration, and geometry of TGFs influencing nearby aircraft, and study their effects on electronic equipment. We calculate, for different assumptions, the total dose and the dose-rate, and estimate single-event-effects. We find that in addition to the electromagnetic component (electrons/positrons, gamma rays) also secondary neutrons produced by gamma-ray photo production in the aircraft structure substantially contribute to single-event effects in critical semiconductors components. Depending on the physical characteristics and geometry, TGFs may deliver a large flux of neutrons within a few milliseconds in an aircraft. This flux is calculated to be orders of magnitude larger than the natural cosmic-ray background, and may constitute a serious hazard to aircraft electronic equipment. We present a series of numerical simulations supporting our conclusions. Our results suggest the necessity of dedicated measurement campaigns addressing the radiative and particle environment of aircraft near or within thunderstorms.