In the push to start supersonic flights, one aviation firm plans to replace cabin windows with electronic display screens.
The grounding of Concorde in 2003 signalled the end of commercial supersonic flights, but that may be set to change. A number of engineering and aviation firms have recently released proposals for the development of supersonic aircraft. Among them, Spike Aerospace hopes to have a Mach 1.6-1.8 supersonic jet in the air in 2018; the 12-18 seater private jet-style aircraft would fly from London to New York in less than four hours.
The Boston-based company has now released the first renderings of the jet’s “revolutionary” fuselage, which is completely devoid of windows. For the engineers, the removal of windows will facilitate passenger relaxation and reduce in-flight exertion by ensuring “no more glaring sun and no more shades to pull down or push up”. More pertinently, the absence of windows will reduce the weight of the aircraft – the insertion of windows requires additional structural supports and parts – and will lessen drag, thus diminishing travel times and fuel costs.
In place of windows, the jet’s interior walls will be covered in thin display screens. Cameras on the exterior of the aircraft will be able to transmit footage of the surrounding panoramas. Alternatively the screens can be used to show films or preloaded slideshows of calming images, or to display spreadsheets and work documents for meetings for work meetings in the air.
For the designers at Spike Aerospace, the removal of windows from the passenger cabin – conventional windows will remain in the cockpit – will also serve to save passengers from the monotony of traditional aerial vistas: “Most of the time while flying, you can’t see much anyway. At night you are lucky to see a few stars, perhaps the moon and the wing light. When flying over the ocean, all you see is a blue ocean extending to the horizon.”
The firm is so assured of the benefits of windowless cabins that it anticipates them to become the norm on all new aircraft within the next 20 years. Matt Knowles, UK communications director of Boeing, contests that. “We’re not looking at going windowless. The next aircrafts we release will be the 737 Max, out in 2017, and the 777 X, due out towards the start of the 2020s; both models will have windows. The development is interesting in theory but we follow demand from the airlines and the airlines respond to what their passengers want. We’ve found that passengers want windows.”
Passengers willing to fly in a windowless fuselage may need to consider other potential problems. Should the technology falter during the flight, for example, passengers would be plunged into darkness and would have no other means to look out of the aircraft. As confusion over the fate of the lost Malaysia Airlines flight continues, passengers will also be mindful of terrorist action, sabotage or human interference disrupting transmission.
While Jonny Clark, a pilot and the founder of the aviation design website thedesignair, believes the windowless cabin “would reduce stress on the plane, helping create even more of a monocoque structure and reducing fatigue on the aircraft” he has concerns. "Placing yourself in a sealed metal tube, flying faster than the speed of sound at great altitude with no spacial awareness would prove disturbing for most, and as a pilot, I can see huge safety issues with this concept. Windows are not just there to allow passengers to get accustomed to the ambient light outside in case of an emergency, but also to allow emergency workers to see in, in case they need to cut into the aircraft. With no windows, it is a dark art.”
Airsickness could be an additional issue. Says Clark: “Those who feel airsick sometimes need to look out the window to establish a reference to which way their body is facing (like you do when you are car sick). If the walls inside the cabin were projections, they would need to ‘roll' with the aircraft, to help the body understand it is 'turning' in the sky. This could actually make people feel even more unwell.”
The Telegraph London