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Transportation Patents

Airbus Patents Windowless Cockpit That Would Increase Pilots' Field of View 468

Zothecula writes 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.
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Airbus Patents Windowless Cockpit That Would Increase Pilots' Field of View

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  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:53PM (#47400631) Journal

    What then?

  • Re: Failsafe? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TWX ( 665546 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:21PM (#47400985)

    So if power dies off, at least with glass windows, the pilots can still see out and glide to a 'dead-stick' landing (even if it's not on a runway) using the backup power to the flight controls.

    Perhaps we should call it the Sullenberger Test.

    I can see one way that such screens could work- make them multilayer LCD. A black layer closest to the window, a white later, then the image layer. The black layer serves to block sunlight, and the white layer helps to white-balance the screen and provide some additional light blocking. In the event that power fails, the screens turn clear.

  • strong objections (Score:4, Interesting)

    by amoeba1911 ( 978485 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:48PM (#47401267) Homepage

    What if the electricity fails? What if the camera breaks? What if this, what if that? People had the same kind of very strong objections to fly-by-wire systems, and we've had planes for decades with no physical links between the controls in the cockpit and the control surfaces that move the plane. The number of accidents caused by failure of a fly-by-wire system? None. There are so many redundancies in these systems, it makes it very unlikely to fail.

    Next... seeing outside isn't particularly important. Pilots don't really need to look out the window on these planes for flying. Especially when the plane is in fog or clouds, looking out the window can be actually confusing and disorienting and it's much safer to to look a the instruments. When coming in for a landing, the runway has a guidance system that guides the plane right onto the runway (ILS).

    Plus, you can actually get a much better view of the outside using cameras and screens.

    This being said, this is not an invention and it's not patent-worthy. As others mentioned, NCC-1701 had a viewscreen instead of a window... almost half a century ago.

  • Re: Failsafe? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vic-traill ( 1038742 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @02:22PM (#47401607)
    I just wonder how this [theaviationist.com] plays out with a screen failure and no transparent windshield?

    An unusual set of circumstances but airplane accidents almost always are ...
  • Missing the point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Somebody Is Using My ( 985418 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @03:12PM (#47401939) Homepage

    I'm actually less worried about the view-screen failing than most are; given how robust the systems on these planes are, it is unlikely that is going to be a significant problem. If it gets to the point where the viewscreen itself no longer works, the pilots probably will probably have other much more important problems to deal with, like catastrophic hull damage or engine failure (having said that, I'm all for the addition of a periscope or small viewport that can be used in emergencies).

    What does concern me is the image that is going to be projected onto these screens. It is going to be a mixed feed of camera images and sensors into one panoramic display. This raises flags for two reasons. First, cameras have fixed viewing angles, and windows do not. A pilot can lean a bit to the side while looking out a window to see just slightly more to the left or right; he won't be able to do so with a fixed TV image. Secondly, having worked with how computers merge panoramic images, I wonder how much lag there will be between the time the camera SEES its image and the time it actually is displayed on the screen; even a tenth of a second delay could be dangerous. I also wonder what information will be culled because the programs cannot make a seamless match between the different camera images otherwise. Programs that merge images can make some stupid assumptions sometimes and a detail at the border between two or more images is sometimes lost due to the algorithm.

    A better initial use for this technology than completely replacing the cockpit windows, I think, would be to replace the PASSENGER windows. Those are far less critical to the plane. Giving each PASSENGER a small OLED screen in place of a window would greatly increase structural integrity and decrease fuel use while also allowing the technology to better mature before replacing the much more important viewports in the cockpit.

  • Re:Failsafe? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @03:54PM (#47402285)

    There are no display systems more reliable than a plate of glass.


    Alas, the controls are also wired to high heaven, and if the computers fail, all windows will do is give the pilots a great view of the crash caused by failure of the control systems.

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @04:13PM (#47402439)
    As someone who has worked on the ramp of a major international airport, I have concerns about how this would affect ground operations. On the ramp there is a lot of visual communication between the pilots and the gate crews and others on the ramp. Major airports have bag tugs, cars, aircraft service trucks, buses, and even commercial delivery trucks driving around on the ramp, and where the vehicle traffic intersects taxiways, being able to actually see the pilot in the cockpit is very useful so that you know that they can see you. It is not uncommon for a pilot to wave traffic across to indicate they are not ready to taxi yet (usually this is signaled by the lights on the front landing ger being on, but to due a bright day or a bad angle they can often be hard to see). While there are plenty of aids for flying that reduce the need for a pilot to have visibility, when they are on the ground operating alongside hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people, sight and visual communication play very important roles.
  • Re: Failsafe? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bbn ( 172659 ) <baldur.norddahl@gmail.com> on Monday July 07, 2014 @06:03PM (#47403313)

    The worse thing that could happen to a view screen is that it gets so smashed up you can't resolve fine details through all the cracks (actually, the absolutely worse thing that could happen is that it ceases to exist, but at that point you've got other problems). But the fine details are hardly necessary for flying and landing.

    Not so, This 747 went through a ash cloud from a vulcano and got their windscreen sandblasted: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B... [wikipedia.org]

    As Flight 9 approached Jakarta, the crew found it difficult to see anything through the windscreen, and made the approach almost entirely on instruments, despite reports of good visibility. The crew decided to fly the Instrument Landing System (ILS); however, the vertical guidance system was inoperative, so they were forced to fly with only the lateral guidance as the first officer monitored the airport's Distance Measuring Equipment (DME). He then called out how high they should be at each DME step along the final approach to the runway, creating a virtual glide slope for them to follow. It was, in Moody's words, "a bit like negotiating one's way up a badger's arse."[1] Although the runway lights could be made out through a small strip of the windscreen, the landing lights on the aircraft seemed to be inoperable. After landing, the flight crew found it impossible to taxi, due to glare from apron floodlights which made the already sandblasted windscreen opaque.

    As you see, they didn't eject. They landed the plane flying blind.

  • Re:Failsafe? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @06:27PM (#47403489) Journal

    No, that would wreck the entire engineering of getting rid of the windows in the first place.

    In principle, there could be 'emergency' windows that were smaller or more awkwardly placed (perhaps even requiring the use of a periscope or physical light pipe) that could nevertheless still be used to land a plane in the event of a complete failure of the electronic display system. From an engineering standpoint, even a switch from giant wrap-around windows to small portholes is still going to provide some improvement in strength and weight.

    That said, it's worth noting two things. First, modern aircraft are so heavily electronics-dependent (and fly-by-wire driven) that in the event of a catastrophic failure of onboard electronics, the loss of virtual windows may not actually be the biggest problem on your plate. Second, modern aircraft are often rated for landing completely blind (at suitably equipped airports); even if you lose the view from the entire front 'window', a landing on instruments is still a reasonable option.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN