Airbus Wants Planes With Windowless Cockpits

That is, if pilotless planes don't get here first.

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Jul 9 2014, 9:35am
Image: US Patent Office

Since at least 1980, the cockpit has been known as that "little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit," but that's not important now. What's important is that one of the world's biggest airline companies is looking to move into the post-cockpit era, or at least bring about the end of the cockpit as we know it.

A patent recently filed by Airbus explained that, while we've traditionally needed the cockpit up front so pilots can see where they're going, that's actually kind of a lousy place to put them: The nose is already forced to deviate from its ideal “lancet shape” in order to house the radar and front landing gear. Combine that with the thick glass that it takes to give pilots a view, and the front of the airplane—it's leading edge—is less aerodynamic than it ideally should be.

Given the rising cost of fuel, that seems like a sufficient reason to look for alternative places to put the pilots. Given that Airbus's patent also makes a case for expanding the cabin and giving airlines more room to cram in passengers, it seems like an almost inevitable development.

Image: US Patent Office

What I like best about this patent is the places Airbus suggests they could put the pilots: maybe in the hold where the bags go, maybe in the tail of the plane, who knows? The point is, they don't need to be in the front looking out of the windows.

Why the need for windows at all? Pilots of the F-35 Budgetbuster fighter jet have rad Terminator style helmets that are designed to allow the pilot to “look” right through the floor of his plane. Because it's the F-35, naturally there was a problem with the helmet that made the image lag, but it's still a compelling idea.

Image: US Patent Office

In the next-generation Airbus planes there could be big 180 degree screens, or pseudocockpits, that “could immerse the pilot into a three-dimensional universe,” which the company believes would be enough to keep the pilots more engaged and therefore the passengers safe on future flights.

This is all, of course, assuming that airliners that don't have pilots at all don't take off first.