Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Saint Elmos Fire

One of the oddest events you can observe in flight is Saint Elmo’s fire. The phenomenon occurs when the atmosphere becomes charged and an electrical potential strong enough to cause a discharge is created between an object and the air around it. The amount of electricity involved is not great enough to be dangerous. Check out this video of Saint Elmo’s Fire taken by a pilot in Iraq at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sA-Hk_jnPg&eurl=. This is very typical of what it looks like. Sometimes you can see a shaft of plasma form in front of the nose. I have been told by other pilots that they have seen a ball of undulating plasma spinning just off the nose of their aircraft. Earlier in the year I was flying a redeye to the east coast. During the cruise portion of our flight we started to encounter Saint Elmo's fire. Frying pan size electrostatic spider webs started to move across our front windows. It was a fair amount of Saint Elmo’s fire. I called the lead flight attendant and asked if he had ever seen Saint Elmo’s fire. He said he had not and would like to come up to see it. Once in the flight deck he was shocked to see so much electrical discharge and even more shocked that it was moving all over the windows. After about 5 minutes he had seen enough and left. We then got a call from the cabin and it was another flight attendant who wanted to see the Saint Elmo’s fire. She came into the flight deck and was also surprised at what she saw. To observe it better she squatted down to about half her height. After a couple of minutes she asked me what exactly is Saint Elmo’s fire. I turned to look at her about two feet away and started to give her an answer. I looked as serious as I could and as I did so I placed my hand on the window. Although Saint Elmo’s fire looks impressive, you cannot feel it in any way. As I was explaining to her what it was she was seeing a large discharge occurred on the window my hand was on. Just as it went across where my hand was I screamed and shook violently as though I was being electrocuted. She screamed a mighty scream as she thought the pilot was being electrocuted, fell backwards, and hit her head against the cockpit door. The copilot started laughing and I followed him. She realized I had tricked her and she started laughing as well. She left the flight deck and we continued on. The Saint Elmo’s fire died away and we cruised into clear skies. It might be a while before I see Saint Elmo’s fire again but this last time I will remember for a long time. Be Safe, FlyGuy


Blogger Ben said...

Oh man! It's only Tuesday, but that gave me the biggest laugh of the week, good stuff!! Thanks for sharing htat one, it was a great story!


5:45 PM  
Anonymous Roberto said...

Cap, sorry, it's been 2 years now, after you wrote down this story but I gotta tell you, I've been laughing for 30 minutes now, great stuff and great joke!

Keep writing Cap, great narratory you have in this blog!

9:22 PM  

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