An aircraft wick, commonly known as static wicks or static discharge wicks, is a high electrical resistance device with a lower corona voltage than the surrounding aircraft structure. Physically, they look like long thin extensions that are located outboard trailing edges of the wings. Their purpose is to dissipate the static electricity that can accumulate during flight. Because they serve an important purpose, it’s extra crucial to take good care of the wicks.
To elaborate more on this, you have to first understand what exactly the aircraft wick is and what it does. As you fly through areas of uncharged particles, which can exist in the atmosphere as rain, snow, fog, dust or ash, positive charges deflect and negative charges attach to the airframe, building up and eventually discharging at certain points of the airframe where the static wicks are generally attached. If these wicks were not in place, there would be potential for audio disturbances, weak radio transmissions and even complete loss of communication. Other possible indications of static discharge include erratic instrument readouts, erroneous magnetic compass readings and a phenomenon called St. Elmo’s Fire, where the static discharge is visible.
The interesting thing about static wicks is that they can be purchased with or without FAA approval. Some planes can even fly without them. While they serve a very important purpose of dissipating static particles, some planes get on without them because these planes simply do not fly through such heavy amounts of particles (ie fog, snow, rain, etc.). However, like in most examples, it is always better to err on the side of caution. All commercial planes will have some form of static wick in the case that the do have a need for them in flight.
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