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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A supersonic jet with cameras and screens instead of windows

One of my favourite, regular visit websites is Dezeen. At least half of the stuff there is of very little interest to me. But, I find myself wanting to look at about a quarter of it more carefully, and a single figure percentage of what it sticks up tends to interest me a lot. That’s a lot of interestingness, when you consider that Dezeen is, as of now, updated several times every day.

In particular, Dezeen often features an interesting new gizmo, news of which can be easily rehashed into one of those ain’t capitalism grand postings that we love to do here, as often as we are able to tear our eyes away from the ghastliness of politics.

So, for instance, today, Dezeen has a description of a supersonic airplane, the distinguishing feature of which is that instead of the airplane having lots of windows for its highly paid passengers to look out of, it instead has cameras recreating the visual effect of looking out, and much more continuously and impressively than is possible when you are relying on real windows. Like this:


Quite how exactly this arrangement fakes the real experience of looking out of a continuous window shaped like that, I do not know. Will 3D effects be involved? But considering that the faster an airplane goes (this one is intended to be very fast indeed) the more expensive it becomes to carve windows into it, and considering that the cost and bulk and weight and quality both of cameras and of screens are all variables that are moving in exactly the right directions, this struck me immediately as one of those “Why did I not think of this?” ideas. By that I do not mean that I could do the actual work of contriving such an airplane, merely that I ought to have realised far sooner than today that other much more engineering-savvy people than I would very soon be talking in public about such notions, and that they presumably have been doing this for quite some while, without me noticing it.

I would further assume that the structural benefits to having an airplane which does not have a lot of quite large holes scattered all along its fuselage must be considerable. Yes:

“It has long been known that the windows cause significant challenges in designing and constructing an aircraft fuselage. They require additional structural support, add to the parts count and add weight to the aircraft,” said the company.

On the other hand, if what is required inside the airplane is concentration on the job to be done when the airplane has landed, as might well be the case, then other imagery can go in the “window” instead. Or, presumably, no imagery at all.

Relying on cameras for a task like this means that if the worst happens and the cameras all go haywire, nobody dies. A few people merely have a somewhat less amusing trip than they might have been anticipating. Do the pilots have an actual window in front of them? That might be wise, but maybe not.

Whatever the details are, and indeed whether or not this particular airplane ever gets anywhere near taking to the air, I’m impressed. And talking of people who are much more engineering-savvy than I am, I wonder what our commentariat thinks about this notion.

31 comments to A supersonic jet with cameras and screens instead of windows

  • Mr Ed

    Some people hate flying, and won’t, but some do so anyway, others adore it. The haters might loathe reminders of height, and prefer a forest scene or solid metal, but I relish seeing where I am going, even into Kai Tak.

    No window, no fly, you might as well charter a cargo ‘plane to travel in in my view. Imagine the panic all round if a camera fails. A window is a nuisance to an engineer, but not always to a passenger. I know someone who flew on an early Comet and happily survived, but the square windows did for it. (Apparently, when concerns about the Comet first arose after crashes, but the cause was unclear, Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother were packed off to South Africa on one as a gesture). The great Nimrod derivative of the Comet did Sterling work for decades, almost always unseen, even within 60 miles of the Argentine coast in the Falklands War.

    If the engineers can’t make a good plane with windows, get a better engineer.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    IIRC, Captain Scarlet drove a car without windows and indeed faced backwards watching a screen showing the front view. So credit this idea to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson?

    Ah yes! Here we are [bless wikipedia].

  • Mr Ed

    Captain Scarlet’s rear-facing seat (spoiler: It’s not real folks) may have been farsighted anticipation, there is a provision in the Formula 1 World Championship rules that the driver shall normally be seated in a forward facing position in the car, (13.1.3) presumably just in case anyone tried side-saddle or backwards for a 200 mph curve with 4.5 lateral g for the sake of somehow gaining an extra 1/100th of a second advantage.

  • No windows is a great idea. People will get used to projected images soon enough and wonder what the fuss was about.

  • Nick (BTF) Gray

    But doesn’t Bond, James Bond need easily-broken windows on planes so that villains can be sucked through them?
    And don’t doors also affect structural integrity? does that mean that doors will be welded shut at the start of a trip, and welded open at the end, to preserve integrity?

  • Bruce Hoult

    This is my preferred size of windows. But supersonic.

  • Paul Marks

    I think this is a good idea – although Mr Ed is correct, some people will hat it.

    And for people who say “it is not real” – it is if the system is accurately showing the view from the aircraft.

    I agree with Brian that windows (on very fast aircraft) are an expensive weakness.

    I always try and sit by a window – but a camera would suit me just as well (indeed it might show me the view better).

  • The main reason I hate flying is claustrophobia, and a window or an illusion of one alleviates that, but only to a certain limit. It’s not like I can really open that window at those moments when I feel more trapped than usual and get some fresh air in. The same goes for fake windows – hence, no real difference.

  • Mr Ed

    It is really just a ‘flying submarine’ concept, portholes not being that common on military subs and now cameras for periscopes. However, in the event of an electrical failure it would be very unpleasant indeed, perhaps chemiluminescent back-up or fireflies, for safety, a bit like the mice in the Royal Navy’s first submarines.

  • Laird

    When was the last time you experienced an “electrical failure” in a commercial aircraft, Mr Ed? Doesn’t happen. Still, I suppose one of the exterior cameras could fail, but as long as they have multiple cameras and can switch the display to a different one even that shouldn’t be a significant issue.

    I rather think that the bigger problem will be the inevitable temptation to use those screens to inundate that captive audience with advertisements!

  • Mr Ed

    Laird ‘Doesn’t happen’ and ‘It cannot happen’ are not the same thing. I worked with aerospace companies for several years and the attention to quality control never ceased to amaze me, but that is not the point. A window lets in ambient light, it is a passive tool, a complex array of screens and cameras do not, they replicate the image of light outside, if they are so instructed to and work. Looking at recent Dreamliner incidents, I wouldn’t say that x ‘cannot’ happen. I would say that the effect could be stunning, but window is such a positive word, and ‘camera’ is for that which is hidden. Has anyone ever accused a window of lying?

    This aircraft is intended as a >Mach 1 private jet, so only the most tiresome host would bombard you with adverts. Had I the money and wish, I would not buy it in preference for a craft with windows.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I thought it was Captain Blue who drove the SPV, Captain Scarlett had his own nifty SSC.

    The only problem with those full length “windows” is what if someone needs a bit of shut-eye?

  • Of course an electrical failure is possible, but I would imagine that in such an event there would be more serious issues to worry about.

  • Mr Ed

    Alisa, in the event of ditching in water during daylight, post-failure, not having natural light entering the cabin, and with no orientation possible until the door is opened strikes me as a particular disadvantage all other things being equal. I suspect that the engineering gains from removing the windows are significant in terms of fuselage strength as well as speed and weight, and that strength itself may aid survivability, but for me this system would be a no no.

    On a commercial flight, i have enjoyed camera views from a seatback miniscreen and the flow of data, but this is very much a private jet and £48,000,000 a go. However is Mach 1.8+ really going to be a business jet? The article says of the maker’s plans:

    “We expect the first customers for the jet will be businesses and their management teams that need to manage global operations more efficiently. They will be able to reach destinations faster, evaluate more opportunities and have a bigger impact on their enterprises,” said the company.

    Isn’t that rather 2007 credit boom speak? 4 hours saved per transatlantic trip from one debt ridden welfare state to another?

    Surely this is the post-Soviet oligarch’s jet of choice for a quick getaway, assuming that there’s no MiG-25 handy?

  • You have a point, Ed.

  • Laird

    And you expect to be able to walk (or swim) away from a supersonic water landing, Mr Ed? As Alisa says, if there is a catastrophic electrical failure the lack of windows is the probably least of your problems. In fact, it might actually be a blessing.

  • Mr Ed

    Laird, as you know, drag would slow down the aircraft after a power failure, it may glide, and trade altitude for speed, before coming down to Earth at the point where it runs out of altitude, hopefully before speed (i.e. horizontal-ish). Thereupon, I have a chance. I merely prefer to optimise my chances, and to see unaided where I am going in the interim. OTOH, the lack of windows would be like wearing Zaphod Beeblebrox’s sunglasses.

    Anyway, I hope to go to a talk given by Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown RN, veteran of 11 air crashes, 2,407 aircraft carrier landings (including one with wheels deliberately up), interrogator of Goering and Himmler, who has flown more aircraft types than anyone, including a trip on an Me163, so perhaps I shall feel better about this beast afterwards. Here is a snip from his account of his and a colleague’s first attempts at flight in an early helicopter, having had to teach themselves from the manual.

    I got in to try and make the horribly unfamiliar thing fly. I fiddled with the controls, and within a few seconds I was charging all over the airfield. The brute just wouldn’t obey me.

    Speechless, we both had a stiff drink, then tried again.

  • simonlerosbif

    And a viewing screen in the floor too, please.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @ Runcie Balspune- in the episodes described by Wikipedia it seems to be about 40-40-20 whether Captain Blue, Captain Scarlet or A N Other drives the SPV

  • Mike Borgelt

    Bruce, Those windows aren’t large enough. Make the damn thing out of General Products hull material.

  • Brother J

    It was fatigue cracks originating from the corners of a window that led to the demise of at least two (IIRC) deHavilland Comets in the early 1950’s.

  • Nick (BTF) Gray

    Don’t we need to find the Puppeteers first? And would a see-through hull seem safe, to our senses? Virtual reality can give us goosebumps with the illusion of glass floors- the reality would be much worse!

  • Trofim

    If it’s Ok to have planes without windows, then neither do we need windows in buildings. Wouldn’t it save big money in construction costs? Me, I like to see distant vistas through a window, but I’m old fashioned. How I’d feel about lifelike backlit views, I’m not sure without trying it. They would have to have lifelike features such as moving clouds, changes of light, birds flying past and so on. If we’re given a choice between windows and artificial light of the same intensity, or brighter, don’t most people go for windows? After all, views add to the price of houses.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Now go read the SF-before-there-was-SF story “The Machine Stops,” by E.M. Forster. Not because we are “anti-technology” (which we certainly are not), but for another reason, related to Alisa’s complaint.


  • bobby b

    “People will get used to projected images soon enough and wonder what the fuss was about.”

    We let them do the same thing to our currency without complaint, so I would expect that “fiat views” wouldn’t cause a stir.

    I want to be that hacker who first figures out how to hook into the View files, and then substitutes a clip of the approach into Nome, Alaska for the scheduled view on his winter flight into Barbados. Imagine the wailing . . .

    Or, the one who is able to graft the Transformers (or Thor, or Godzilla) flying alongside the aircraft and landing next to it.

  • I wonder what all those people who hate flying without windows do when they’re allocated an aisle seat, night falls, and the blinds come down?

  • Mr Ed

    Tim, they get miserable, or drunk and miserable.

  • Nick (BTF) Gray

    When will someone tell us about that new British invention, the Airlander? Is it really an advanced dirigible?

  • Fred the Fourth

    To address the side remark about windows for pilots: the earliest research I am aware of on forward-looking camera + viewscreen tech for approach and landing was done in the 1960’s at NASA Ames, in a DC-3. So this idea goes back a good long way.

  • Libertarian

    “… if the worst happens…”

    When I read this phrase in an article on flying, forgive me if I immediately think “plane crash!”

    So, naturally, I figured that one advantage to cameras would be – in the event of impending doom – the ability to spool up a scene of a pleasant, level (i.e. not a dive) flight so that the passengers’ last moments aren’t full of hysterical fear…….

  • Mr Ed

    I briefly mentioned this ‘plane to a commercial private pilot the other day, who had told me that the private jets in Moscow outshine anything seen in the UK, be it Biggin Hill or Farnborough, his response ‘It would be like flying in a Smarties tube if anything went wrong‘.

    Meanwhile, in Bedfordshire, a much, much slower means of air transport, the airship, is being reborn.