With “this” I mean an airplane ‘without’ a cockpit. Would you?
Maybe you will have to in the future. Airbus filed a patent titled “Aircraft with a cockpit including a viewing surface for piloting which is at least partially virtual”.
What does that even mean? Is it with or without a cockpit? Well, the truth is, it’s something inbetween. Everybody is used to the cockpit being in the front/top of the plane. That’s where people more or less expect the “driver” to be. Subway, train, bus and even though the driver seat in a car is more or less in the middle, we still feel as it being in the front because we see out of the big front window.
But there are some down sides to having the cockpit where it currently is. Most importantly, having the cockpit there is aerodynamically flawed. A cockpit like that needs windows, very strong ones. Those windows are heavy and need to be reinforced, which means even more weight. On top of that, the cockpit is room where passengers cannot e seated.
So what Airbus suggests is to relocate the cockpit somewhere else in the plane. The two suggested locations are underneath the floor, or in the vertical stabilizer as shown in this image taken from the patent document:
But then how will the pilots see where they’re going?! A pretty good question if you ask me. So technology comes to the rescue. The pilots will have a “partially virtual” cockpit, which really just comes down to them having a big display to look at. Much like a flight simulator, just better. Instead of comparing a plane to a bus, you can now compare it with a submaring. Submarine operators also have no front window and rely on charts and technology to get to where they want to be.
Cameras mounted at various locations on the plane will provide the images that will be used on the display. The advantage is that the pilots will be able to see much more than with their own eyes from the small windows in the current cockpit. If you’ve ever been inside a cockpit, you know that visibility is actually rather limited. Here’s a sketch of what such a cockpit with a display may look like:
I’ve seen people commenting that cameras and the display can fail. But to be honest, that’s a bit silly. There is no reason why there wouldn’t be at least a few backup cameras and other systems in place, powered by multiple independent power sources.
As for me, I wouldn’t mind flying in a plane with this new type of cockpit. Let’s face it, you don’t get to see the cockpit now anyway. You just know it’s there but that’s pretty much it.
So how about you, would you? 🙂