Imagine take off from an airport. You watch the runway through the window and then as you lift off, you see objects on the surface becoming smaller as the altitude increases. On cloud free days you can see towns and cities and beautiful sceneries, but you observe this through a tiny window with a clear view only for the passenger next to the airplane wall.
It is well known that windows on aircraft are small to maximise the areas of hull between them, to increase the strength of the air frame. The air frame would be strongest if the hull had no windows, and in fact large windows were the cause of the loss of several British De Havilland Comets jets in the 1950s as the strain put on the hull due to pressurisation caused metal fatigue in the slim areas of hull between windows, leading to at least two catastrophic in air disasters.
Why do we even have windows then? Military aircraft and cargo aircrafts do not. Well, we have them because many people would feel claustrophobic if the cabin was completely sealed off with no view to the external world. Nowadays we are so used to have the windows that any aircraft without them would be highly unpopular, even though it would be safer.
The Boing 787 Dreamliner, which we have written about previously on this blog, has bigger windows and allows for dimming them in sunlight or night, when there is nothing interesting to see outside. It is an obvious innovation in an age of much new technology, but airplanes, like cars, trains and other complex machines, tend to stay with stable designs over decades without much change. This reduces the risks of implementing untested technology, as we can see with the many problems of the Dreamliner last year, but there are so many new technologies that could enhance our experience if applied to the basic machines that we use everyday.
Recently Boston based Spike Aerospace, a company founded by a small group of passionate engineers interested in international travel, announced that they have been working on constructing a supersonic corporate jet. They are looking to complete the design through crowd funding, but already at the current stage the new jet shows many innovations. The design, being super sonic like the late Concorde, would enable travellers to reach destinations in half the time it currently takes. Passengers will be able to fly from Frankfurt to New York in four hours instead of the eight hours with current aircrafts.
One innovation from Spike Aerospace is the idea to take advantage of recent advances in video recording, live-streaming, and display technology with a cabin interior that replaces the airplanes windows with high definition curved screens. The airplanes exterior will be lined with tiny HD cameras sending footage to thin, curved displays lining the interior walls. The result will be an unbroken panoramic view of the outside world. If passengers want to sleep or distract themselves from dark skies or ominous rainclouds, they can darken the screen or choose from an assortment of ambient images. This is a very smart idea that I think would upgrade our travel experiences, and the smooth-skinned, window-less fuselage would enhance security. Most aircrafts already have forward, rear and down looking cameras that we can watch in the long-haul flights entertainment systems. With this new technology the experience of the external view could be taken to a new level as the picture below from Spike Aerospace shows.