Will the windowless fuselage become the plane of the future?
Imagine soaring through the air at 500 miles per hour, 36,000ft above the ground, and a mere arm’s reach from the cloud tops you see stretching in every direction. As the sun begins to go down, the entire cabin is lit floor to ceiling with the dazzling sunset, and even the passengers sitting in the aisle seats are afforded the 360o view of the runway as the plane glides in to land.
This is exactly the daydream that UK based innovation and technology centre CPI want to make a reality. The conceptual design sees fleets of conventional aircraft joined by passenger planes featuring a windowless fuselage. While being sealed into a darkened tube may sound like the stuff of nightmares to the nervous flier, CPI’s vision dispels all of these images. The cabin of the aircraft is to be lined floor to ceiling with curved OLED screens, offering a seamless panoramic view to passengers on board.
Using cameras situated around the aircraft, the screens will display a live stream of the outside world, effectively removing the walls of the fuselage, giving jetsetters the impression of flying in a glass aircraft.
For those not in a ‘window’ seat, the seatback in front will become a passenger’s very own window to the world. Alongside displaying a choice of views from the aircraft, the ultra-thin screens double up as a source of entertainment, delivering flight information, passenger services and movies at the stroke of a finger.
Speaking to the QEPrize about the concept plane, CPI’s Director of Strategy and Futures, Graham Hillier, said: “The windowless fuselage is the vision of a future type of aircraft where science and technology is developed and brought together in an integrated way that creates design flexibility, reduces operating cost and improves user experience. It will need a new approach to the manufacture of aerostructures in composites and metals, propulsion systems, fuel, and the screen technologies. The challenge is to bring together a group of partners from across users, manufacturers, designers, operators and funders, to test the vision and translate it into a practical reality.”
The process of cutting holes for windows in conventional planes weakens the overall structure of the plane, meaning the fuselage must be reinforced and made larger in compensation. When it comes to forcing a fully laden passenger jet to defy gravity and take to the skies, every kilogram of weight is of critical importance. By removing the necessity for windows, CPI suggest the fuselage can be slimmed down and made lighter, saving on the cost of fuel and subsequently levels of carbon dioxide emissions. With more than 3 billion passengers taking to the air every year, the novel - if slightly bonkers - innovation stands to make a massive impact.
As impressive as the project sounds, CPI warn that it is unlikely we will be seeing windowless planes taking off any time soon. Graham says: “If a windowless plane is to emerge into commercialisation, the innovation process will take time, money and unremitting commitment to collaborative partnership. The vision is there, the science exists, but it now needs the collaborative innovation to test the idea to make it happen in an appropriate way.”
In this episode we speak to Dr Mark Schenk, an aerospace engineer whose childhood interest in origami led to innovative work developing foldable structures.Read more