Airbus: Pilots Don’t Need Windows In Cockpit, Or Even A Cockpit

The Airbus patent suggests two alternate, windowless locations for the pilot's "viewing platform."

The Airbus patent suggests two alternate, windowless locations for the pilot’s “viewing platform.”

All those windows in the cockpit of your jumbo jet? They’re expensive to maintain and just slow the plane down, but they’re necessary for the whole “seeing” thing. The folks at Airbus disagree.

In a recently published patent filing, the plane manufacturer describes a plane where the “cockpit lacks any glazed surfaces” and where the pilot uses only display monitors for piloting the plane.

Airbus explains that the current requirements for cockpits result in compromises to the ideal lancet-like form that a plane should have.

“[T]he housing in the nose for radar, a landing gear, and especially for the cockpit, requires a much more complex shape and structure to be provided, with numerous radii of curvature,” reads the patent. “In particular, the presence of the cockpit requires a large glazed surface to be provided in order to give operational physical visibility and to meet the rules and requirements for certification, such a glazed surface being very heavy which requires numerous structural reinforcements to be put in place which increase the mass of the aircraft still further.”

And all that room that the cockpit takes up means fewer paying passengers, resulting in cramped seating conditions and not as much money in airlines’ pockets.

But Airbus’s idea is set on “mitigating these drawbacks by providing an aircraft having a new cockpit of which the impact on the mass and on the aerodynamics of the aircraft is significantly reduced.”

The patent suggests other locations for a “viewing platform” from which the pilot would control the plane. For instance, it could be — according to Airbus — put below the cabin or up in the vertical stabilizer at the rear of the plane.

Of course, you’re still having to move around people and equipment, so relocating the pilot brings up other concerns. Putting the pilot below the passengers takes away space reserved for luggage. And if cutting out a cockpit means additional rows of passengers, that would likely mean more luggage.

Likewise, putting the flight crew and all their equipment in the cramped rear of the plane could throw off the balance of the aircraft and would certainly result in the crew being very close to each other. The last thing you want is your pilot and co-pilot getting into a fight over who gets the armrest.

Then there is also the issue of visibility. While a series of monitors (or heck, a pair of VR goggles) could indeed provide views that are equal to or better than what pilots see from the cockpit windows, they’re not of much use when a camera is knocked out or — heaven forbid — the plane loses power.

Obviously, the purpose of the patent filing isn’t necessarily an indication that Airbus intends to make windowless, cockpit-less planes (which would ultimately need the thumbs-up from regulators). So don’t expect to see your pilot climbing up into the stabilizer or using your checked luggage for a seat any time soon.

The patent does away with a cockpit and instead creates the "viewing platform," with the pilot seated before a large, curved video screen.

The patent does away with a cockpit and instead creates the “viewing platform,” with the pilot seated before a large, curved video screen.

Airbus: Pilots don’t really need windows [SeattlePI.com]

Airbus Wants To Take The Cockpit Out Of The Cockpit Of The Future [Jalopnik Flight Club]

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  1. ShadyTrust says:

    “…resulting in cramped seating conditions”

    No matter what they remove they won’t alleviate cramped seating conditions. They’ll just add more seats to make even more people equally cramped.

  2. CzarChasm says:

    Seems to me that airbus is probably right. We really don’t need physical windows anymore.

  3. ReverendTed57 says:

    It’s fortunate that electronics never fail, or else this could be a bad idea!
    Snarky comment aside, I am curious how feasible it is for a pilot to land a contemporary commercial airliner on visual reference alone if the electronics fail, if it’s possible at all.

    • mongo says:

      Exactly. It’s not like the Air France Airbus needed the crew to know how to fly it by hand to keep it out of the ocean. The advantage of not having windows would be not to see the water you’re going to hit.

  4. SpeakBob says:

    I may be wrong, but don’t the pilots signal to the ground crew before doing some things? I know they ground crew signals to the pilots, & this could be seen using the camera system, but how would the ground crew know the pilot saw them?