Aircraft

Airbus patents windowless cockpit that would increase pilots' field of view

Airbus patents windowless cock...
The virtual cockpit display widens the pilot's field of vision
The virtual cockpit display widens the pilot's field of vision
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Layout of the virtual cockpit display
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Layout of the virtual cockpit display
The virtual cockpit display widens the pilot's field of vision
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The virtual cockpit display widens the pilot's field of vision
Holographic communicator and weather display
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Holographic communicator and weather display
Holographic globe
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Holographic globe
Cockpit relocated to the lower deck frees up nose space
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Cockpit relocated to the lower deck frees up nose space
Cockpit relocated to the tail increases security and gives crew more room
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Cockpit relocated to the tail increases security and gives crew more room
Nose cockpit showing the size of the virtual screen and touch control surfaces
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Nose cockpit showing the size of the virtual screen and touch control surfaces
Cockpit relocated into the nose frees up more space in the cabin
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Cockpit relocated into the nose frees up more space in the cabin

Imagine showing up at the airport to catch your flight, looking at your plane, and noticing that instead of windows, the cockpit is now a smooth cone of aluminum. It may seem like the worst case of quality control in history, but Airbus argues that this could be the airliner of the future. In a new US patent application, the EU aircraft consortium outlines a new cockpit design that replaces the traditional cockpit with one that uses 3D view screens instead of conventional windows.

There’s a reason why cockpits are traditionally in the nose of a plane – not the least of which is the pilot being able to see where they're going. In addition to flying, being up front provides a clear view forward and downward for landing and taxiing. That’s all very useful, but it does tend to ruin the aerodynamics of the aircraft’s nose, which would ideally be lancet shaped. As aircraft have grown larger and more complicated, the nose has come to also include the radome, crew rest area and the front landing gear, and the current cockpit design reflects this.

Another problem is that aerospace engineers hate windows. They may be popular with passengers who like to see outside, and pilots, who like to not bang into things, but engineers see them as nothing but points of weakness in what should, ideally, be a solid cylinder. If nothing else, they’ll point to the alarming Comet airliner crashes of the 1950s, which were traced back to poor window design fatally weakening the fuselage. Windows mean heavy reinforcements and multiple layers of glass and plastic to strengthen hull integrity. In addition, placing the cockpit in the nose reduces the cabin size, where every inch is measured in thousands of dollars lost per flight.

Cockpit relocated into the nose frees up more space in the cabin
Cockpit relocated into the nose frees up more space in the cabin

The Airbus patent shows a windowless cockpit that removes the windows or reduces them to partial views of the outside world. Instead, exterior views are provided by a display formed by back projection, lasers, holograms, or OLED imaging systems fed by cameras outside the fuselage. In addition, there are stereo cameras for taxiing and parking, and augmented reality can be used to highlight weather conditions, navigation beacons, air routes, hazards, and other information. There are even holographic displays of a globe displaying navigation and weather data, and a Star Wars-like holographic projector that Darth Vader would enjoy.

The idea of a windowless cockpit may seem a bit mad at first, but there are some real advantages if Airbus can pull it off and get the public to accept it. The proposed system widens the pilot’s field of view, which is always good, and provides more flexibility about what information is displayed and how it's displayed. It reduces the weight of the aircraft, therefore increasing fuel efficiency, and it increases the flexibility of aircraft design. Security can also be increased by making the cabin as hardened as possible – even separating it entirely from the passenger cabin.

At the moment, the windowless cockpit is just a concept, but if the public is willing to go along with it, the smooth airliner could be the plane of the future.

Source: US Patent Office via Flight Club

47 comments
MattII
This does not look safe to me.
Gizmag_Reader_2014
Airbus has not received a granted patent for this invention according to the USPTO. Rather, it appears that a patent application has been filed.
Paul Robertson
Cameras fail. Light does not. This is an important consideration. I think the idea has merit but I'm not sure how to get around that.
hkmk23
And of course there will never ever be a power failure..........
Slowburn
Leave it to Airbus to design a system that a single broken wire renders the pilot blind. It goes nicely with the pilots not knowing what the other pilots are doing with their controls and the auto throttle that does not move the throttle levers.
Deres
This is not possible because to be safe a plane system must take in account failures. A total failure of the electrical system would leave the pilots blind with such a system. Thus a back-up non electric system would have to be kept for the 2 pilots, meaning a window and placing them in front anyway. Nevertheless, not being so extreme, the nose form could be more aerodynamics and the windows less bulky and maybe prtected with metal in nominal conditions and unocculted only in case of failures.
Brian M
Not exactly new - its the thought of thing that's been seen in Science Fiction movies for years. Still it does tell us that the Airbus engineers at least watch Startrek!
Ramon Verhoeven
for all critics : planes never fly blind ? flying on instruments is most common. night maybe compensated with lights, thick fog or rain make instrument flying a must. further electricity fails makes most airplanes brick which fall out of the sky. A dreamliner with even more electrics then other planes is more vulnerable then other planes ? If a plane can keep flying on the ram-jet, I think that can include keeping the screens working.
Stephen Carter
Forget public acceptance. They'll need to convince the pilots first. To see a lancet shaped nose complete with cockpit windows look at the Handley Page Victor. Visibility wasn't all that great, however.
t__
Windowless passenger cabin is the better idea? Even if it fails, the passengers will not have any problems by not being able to see outside. And the structural integrity will get a huge gain. And as a real Star Trek fan - I like it.