Losses and Aviation Safety

Airline pilot explains why future passenger jets could be Windowless

Boeing built its first windowless jet airliners in the 1960s—and they flew as passenger-carrying jets from 1968 to 1992.

Why are the passenger windows on aircraft so small?

Would it not reduce the feeling of claustrophobia and thereby make air travel more comfortable if the windows were larger?

The answer to these questions is that any discontinuity in the skin of the aircraft compromises its strength and potentially complicates the airflow. Big windows make weak fuselages – they were contributory to a series of disastrous crashes in the de Havilland Comet airliner and resulted in the US gaining the lead in civil aircraft design. Manufacturers would very much rather give us nothing at all, so think yourself lucky that we have what we have.

So, will commercial aircraft get rid of passenger windows?

Boeing built its first windowless jet airliners in the 1960s—and they flew as passenger-carrying jets from 1968 to 1992,’ Ron Wagner, former USAF pilot in the Presidential Wing at Andrews AFB and former airline pilot, recalls on Quora.

‘They were not popular because passengers hated the lack of a view. But now we have 4K flat screens, which could give passengers an even better view than they have through a window.

‘Therefore, I will not be surprised if the B-797 is built without windows. I’ll show you their windowless jets at the end, but meanwhile let’s get to the benefits of omitting the windows now that we’re well past 1960s technology.

BENEFITS TO AIRLINES

‘Windows add weight and they weaken the fuselage. With no windows the jet will be lighter, which will save money. And it will fly higher, which will save fuel and therefore save money. And they won’t require as much maintenance over the life of the airframe, which will save money for decades. Flat screens are almost free these days while jet airliner windows are very expensive.

‘And, the paint schemes could be far more interesting and creative.

‘And, there will be savings on the ground because the jets will remain cooler on hot, sunny days.

BENEFITS TO PASSENGERS

‘Speaking of hot, sunny days, with virtual windows you will never again fly on a cloudy day. Imagine having beautiful vistas all the time generated by the computer, but without the heat.

‘Another benefit will be that if one person wants to look outside, they can do so without blasting out the eyeballs of everyone who wants to sleep. The gentle light from a flat screen cannot compare to the blazing sun.

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‘And think of the joys of two-finger zoom on the screens! How many times have you wanted to take a good look at something on the ground, but it’s way too small and moving way too fast even if it wasn’t small. With a virtual window, you could zoom in for close-ups of interesting features. They could easily have a tap feature that would freeze frame so you could zoom in and take a really good look. When you’re satisfied, tap again and it would jump to real time.

‘Of course you would have dozens of view options, such as turning on roads and highways with labels, or not. How often have you wondered, “What city is that?” Well, with a virtual window, you’d just double-tap it and you’d get a little Wiki window with everything you wanted to know.

‘And there’s no reason why the screens wouldn’t have scrolling that would let you tilt down the view to see things you are flying directly over.

‘In fact, there’s no reason to restrict you to just one side of the aircraft. With just a tap, you could select the view from the other side so you’ll never miss the Grand Canyon again because you sat on the wrong side.’

Wagner continues;

SAFETY ENHANCEMENT

‘We are just now a year away from the tragedy of a woman being sucked out of a broken window.

‘While the view on a curved 4K screen on the wall by your seat would definitely suck you in with its beauty and features, it will never suck you out.

‘I think that when the switch to virtual airline windows happens, people would hate to go back to the boring, weird-shaped windows, which you can’t see well through, and which are blocked by clouds something like half the time.

PAUL HARVEY’S “PAGE TWO”

‘And now, let me get back to those first Boeing windowless jet airliners.

‘When I was a pilot in the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base in D.C., we had a fleet of Boeing 707s without windows. They weren’t really 707s—actually they were Boeing 717s—but they were almost the same. The full explanation gets to the root of how the 707 came into existence, which is not the point here.

‘The point here is Boeing built windowless airliners in the 1960s.

‘You’ll note that this looks very similar to the old VC-137 (26000 and 27000), which we used as Air Force One in my day. And we had a few more 137s. But the bulk of our large aircraft, long-range, fleet was the VC-135, pictured above.

Note the lack of windows.

‘And yet, these were airliners inside, used to transport the top government officials in Washington all over the world. They didn’t like the 135 very much because there was no such thing back then as a 4K flat screen TV—in other words, ZERO view except for a small window in each emergency exit hatch, required for safety.

THE VIP “FOOD CHAIN”

‘If you were at the top of the Andrews VIP food chain, like Henry Kissinger, you’d get a VC-137. And maybe if you were the chair of a Senate committee going off for what you folks like to call a “junket,” you’d get a VC-137.

‘But when all of your big black vehicles rolled across the Andrews ramp and stopped in front of a VC-135, you knew where you stood in the Washington pecking order—and it wasn’t at the top.

‘Some Presidents, Johnson in particular, would punish people by ordering us to put them in a VC-135 for a long overseas trip. Heh. Heh. Heh. He loved to teach people lessons in humility because he had none of it himself.

Wagner concludes;

‘The point is, that if Boeing builds a windowless jet airliner, it won’t even remotely be a new thing—except for the high-def flat screens.’

Top Image: courtesy of Centre for Process Innovation Limited

Photo credit: Miles Young / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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