Airbus patents windowless cockpit that would increase pilots' field of view


July 6, 2014

The virtual cockpit display widens the pilot's field of vision

The virtual cockpit display widens the pilot's field of vision

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Imagine showing up at the airport to catch your flight, looking at your plane, and noticing that instead of windows, the cockpit is now a smooth cone of aluminum. It may seem like the worst case of quality control in history, but Airbus argues that this could be the airliner of the future. In a new US patent application, the EU aircraft consortium outlines a new cockpit design that replaces the traditional cockpit with one that uses 3D view screens instead of conventional windows.

There’s a reason why cockpits are traditionally in the nose of a plane – not the least of which is the pilot being able to see where they're going. In addition to flying, being up front provides a clear view forward and downward for landing and taxiing. That’s all very useful, but it does tend to ruin the aerodynamics of the aircraft’s nose, which would ideally be lancet shaped. As aircraft have grown larger and more complicated, the nose has come to also include the radome, crew rest area and the front landing gear, and the current cockpit design reflects this.

Another problem is that aerospace engineers hate windows. They may be popular with passengers who like to see outside, and pilots, who like to not bang into things, but engineers see them as nothing but points of weakness in what should, ideally, be a solid cylinder. If nothing else, they’ll point to the alarming Comet airliner crashes of the 1950s, which were traced back to poor window design fatally weakening the fuselage. Windows mean heavy reinforcements and multiple layers of glass and plastic to strengthen hull integrity. In addition, placing the cockpit in the nose reduces the cabin size, where every inch is measured in thousands of dollars lost per flight.

The Airbus patent shows a windowless cockpit that removes the windows or reduces them to partial views of the outside world. Instead, exterior views are provided by a display formed by back projection, lasers, holograms, or OLED imaging systems fed by cameras outside the fuselage. In addition, there are stereo cameras for taxiing and parking, and augmented reality can be used to highlight weather conditions, navigation beacons, air routes, hazards, and other information. There are even holographic displays of a globe displaying navigation and weather data, and a Star Wars-like holographic projector that Darth Vader would enjoy.

The idea of a windowless cockpit may seem a bit mad at first, but there are some real advantages if Airbus can pull it off and get the public to accept it. The proposed system widens the pilot’s field of view, which is always good, and provides more flexibility about what information is displayed and how it's displayed. It reduces the weight of the aircraft, therefore increasing fuel efficiency, and it increases the flexibility of aircraft design. Security can also be increased by making the cabin as hardened as possible – even separating it entirely from the passenger cabin.

At the moment, the windowless cockpit is just a concept, but if the public is willing to go along with it, the smooth airliner could be the plane of the future.

Source: US Patent Office via Flight Club

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

This does not look safe to me.


Airbus has not received a granted patent for this invention according to the USPTO. Rather, it appears that a patent application has been filed.


Cameras fail. Light does not. This is an important consideration. I think the idea has merit but I'm not sure how to get around that.

Paul Robertson

And of course there will never ever be a power failure..........


Leave it to Airbus to design a system that a single broken wire renders the pilot blind. It goes nicely with the pilots not knowing what the other pilots are doing with their controls and the auto throttle that does not move the throttle levers.


This is not possible because to be safe a plane system must take in account failures. A total failure of the electrical system would leave the pilots blind with such a system. Thus a back-up non electric system would have to be kept for the 2 pilots, meaning a window and placing them in front anyway. Nevertheless, not being so extreme, the nose form could be more aerodynamics and the windows less bulky and maybe prtected with metal in nominal conditions and unocculted only in case of failures.


Not exactly new - its the thought of thing that's been seen in Science Fiction movies for years. Still it does tell us that the Airbus engineers at least watch Startrek!

Brian M

for all critics : planes never fly blind ? flying on instruments is most common. night maybe compensated with lights, thick fog or rain make instrument flying a must. further electricity fails makes most airplanes brick which fall out of the sky. A dreamliner with even more electrics then other planes is more vulnerable then other planes ? If a plane can keep flying on the ram-jet, I think that can include keeping the screens working.

Ramon Verhoeven

Forget public acceptance. They'll need to convince the pilots first. To see a lancet shaped nose complete with cockpit windows look at the Handley Page Victor. Visibility wasn't all that great, however.

Stephen Carter

Windowless passenger cabin is the better idea? Even if it fails, the passengers will not have any problems by not being able to see outside. And the structural integrity will get a huge gain. And as a real Star Trek fan - I like it.


What a huge pile of stinking soft crap - and an attempt to drag a red herring across the path with a pack of lies and half-truths. As usual, the entire and sole purpose is commercial - how much more money they can make out of stuffing yet more people and cargo into Airbus aircraft and sell more of them than Boeing.

Plus, they can take that engineer statement and shove it, the job description of engineers is to design stuff to specification for their clients (- in other words, they do as they are damn well told - ALL of the time), and they are as proud of making a fuselage with windows as they are of a good rail car design or a sharper scalpel.

The area of a cockpit is a tiny part of the entire commercial area of an airliner - the larger the airliner, the smaller the percentage. And there are so many other times when the crew need to see outside than in flight - taxying in a line of aircraft waiting for takeoff, approaching a gate, turning off the runway after landing... what about the critical clearances, enormous stress and demands of an abandoned takeoff? Of an aborted landing? Easing between two other wingtips on a crowded ramp? Sorry, cameras and remote screens simply will not cut it in those conditions.

Not to mention that an aircraft is designed for a maximum take-off and landing weight... you CANNOT just load more into it as if it were a half-laden flatbed truck.

IMHO Airbus is trying too hard to achieve the pilotless aircraft - the fly-by wire was one of the first steps (no mechanical cables linking controls and surfaces), electronic flight regime was the next (the parameters are not allowed to exceed specific values - they lost a whole new aircraft and a team of pilots and engineers in a French forest with that one on a demo flight).

Even now, the pilotless commercial jet is achievable, but the public will not accept that proposition just yet - but I suspect Airbus will find a way to ram it down our throats whether we like it or not.

What next? Well, Controller-less ATC, of course. Computers doing what people do is the challenge, why not go all the way and have it all decided by computers, through digital satellite communication?

Instead of going to all the trouble focusing on a computer-driven aviation system, I suggest Airbus concentrate instead on a matter-transfer machine, one which would allow you to step into a booth with your baggage in one location and step out in another location. After all, there would be no windows for the engineers to hate, and in time a "booth" could be built large enough to transport huge amounts of people and cargo and make Boeing obsolete.

Which is the real object - is it not, Airbus?

Jeez, beam me up, Scotty... I really need one of those Voltarian martinis.

Jim Lynch

This is the dumbest idea I have heard yet. Let's complicate the scenario of flying even more. You GOT to be kidding me! Why don't we allow blind pilots fly the plane while we are talking about this stupidity. This makes absolutely no sense at all, further taking control away from a pilot and routing his commands and what he see's through more and more systems. Runway incursions need immediate reaction to a situation. Who ever thought this idea up needs his/her brain in a glass jar for study.

Gary Hamm

This seems to follow the Airbus philosophy of relying on technology over human pilots, to the point of over-riding pilots whenever they disagree with the technology. That has resulted in numerous incidents and accidents that could not have happened in an old mechanical airplane. Airbus engineers remain convinced they can fly an airplane better than two pilots, that they have foreseen and prepared for every possible circumstance their airplanes will encounter.

Sherman Kensinga

You folks are way too critical. We have the technology to do this now, with little risk and massive cost benefit. A non electric backup can easily be built in which deploys an external lens in case of emergency, which the pilot can access through a viewfinder, similar to a periscope on a submarine. It can even use fibre optics like an endoscope. Visibility would be limited, but more than enough for the odd emergency.


Here's a thought: what if (sparked by the raging hype of the autonomous vehicle), they are actually trying to prevent this from happening (at least in the near future) so they're patenting it? This would be the sensible thing to do with a stupid idea like this! One can hope...


Or maybe it's to acclimate the public to the idea of a plane that doesn't really need human pilots. Oh wait, we already have such planes...

David Best

We have driverless cars and drones fly daily. This shouldn't come as a shock. My guess is they'd first implement this on cargo planes.

We don't hear of a lot of aircraft, maybe flight 370, that lose all electrical functionality and I'm guessing implementation of this technology would include several layers of redundancy. Plus, think about it, on long haul night flights they could turn off the cockpit view and watch "Airplane!" WR2

Horizontal Gophers

Wow! All the skeptics. Its amazing how they've been piloting submarines forever without anymore than sonar. The friendly skies won't work without windows? Tell that to a submariner.

Better access for pilots = more safety to the passengers, and I'm sure, in time, they'll probably be able to do their own in-flight air-trafficing.


I don't think cockpit windows are a huge problem. Remember Concorde? That had to be streamlined. How about just adding a few video cameras with screens for extra views. How about no windows for the passengers, with LED screens (they are already in the seat-backs) instead? You could change the view to wherever you like. That would save weight.

Different topic: Install backward facing seats. Much safer. No-one complains about them on trains.


Quote the Engineer " It looked good on paper "

Jay Finke

if such cockpit were to be approved, and the cameras onboard eventually failed, this event could have bitter consequences.

Miguel Coomans

Oh ..and I forgot to mention, this is a stupid idea. of epic proportions. If one would like to see what this is like, when it does fail, just sit in your closet or a empty refrigerator, and shut the door, and pretend your coming in for a landing. wee look at me Ma no hands.

Jay Finke

I can't see what all the fuss is about. We know from 9/11 that Boeings are capable of being remotely piloted via the new autopilot system and I assume Airbus have played catch up since then. Surely, that is potentially more of a problem (e.g. how long does it take for an on board pilot to react to CAT? A lot quicker than one sat at the controls situated in an office block somewhere, I suspect), but it has slipped into use with no objections at all, well at least none that I have heard of.

I particularly like the idea of the pilots being physically isolated from the rest of the aircraft. That would not put an end to hijacking; but if by hitting the hijack button, all communications between the flight-deck and the passenger cabin were disconnected, it would require that any message for the flight-deck would be via ATC. That would enable reactions to demands to be made by a person or persons not directly affected by the outcome. (This would all tie in with the above remote piloting capability. For instance, on 9/11 none of the aircraft would have done the damage they did. (I imagine that they would have been remotely flown out to sea before they were blown up and as a result killed not only those on board, but also all those at ground zero, so to speak. If the cabin 'windows' were screens, it would be possible to convince the hijackers that they were still on the way to the destination that they have demanded, while the truth would be something else entirely.

As for all the concerns about what happens if it fails - these can safely be dispensed with when one considers that, contrary to what some believe, engineers do NOT simply do what they are told if they have reason to believe that by doing so, death or injury could result. It is not simply a moral issue; it could put them in prison after being found guilty of manslaughter. (Claiming that they were obeying instructions is not an acceptable defence and no engineer worthy of the title knows that.)

Mel Tisdale

The Comet had problems because they used square windows, and cracks developed... I wonder how many engineers saw this, and were told to mind their own business? Humm? A NASA --former-- friend and I would get together and discuss engineering nightmares. One was the lack of redundancy on heat shielding on the wing edge that was but a thin carbon material prone to damage from ice strikes. That ended rather poorly. Well done NASA!

And in the nose of the plane, where does the radar unit go?

Windows are essential when? When you are moving around on the ground in a busy airport. Electrical malfunctions, oh that never ever happens because lightening simply never... well it does strike planes.

I do not mind the notion of a viewing area like this, but having the ability to pull away the "Screen" and having visual sight, is a novel idea, you Airbus Euro Elitists. Like your wake up call per carbon fiber parts, you woke up after an Airbus went down due to a break. I can still see the smiling faces of the passengers as they headed to the ground. You can send me a check $$$ for the idea of having a pull away screen.


@ Mel Tisdale And the Titanic was unsinkable.

Jay Finke

I like it. It could be proven in cargo planes without much risk. We already have cargo ships piloted by computers. This is a logical step on the way to first a "solar system ship" and eventually a "star ship".

It really doesn't matter what the public think or want. As always, they will follow. As Henry Ford noted: "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have told me it was a faster horse."

Let the critics search for a "faster horse" and innovators ... innovate.

Don Duncan

Hey, think of it this way - a pilot need only be able to see the screen with one eye! We can have semi-blind pilots flying, so that solves the pilot shortage. They don't need to have correctable vision to 20/30 since they merely view a screen. : ) Getting real - the last, and most reliable, line of reliability is the pilot's vision, and no intelligent pilot will fall for this stunt. The Asiana incident demonstrated, again, how incompetent pilots fail to comprehend technology, even though they had a VFR day, so even those idiots would be likely to screw up a landing with a 3D screen!


You don't have to have Windowless cockpits to achieve higher visibility, simply add panels around the cockpit windows to add more view. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can even add an overlay to the Window that can be turned off if needed in emergencies.

No need to be radical.

Rann Xeroxx

I wonder, haven't flight simulators been doing this for years? Is moving from virtual reality to reality a patentable idea?

Jeffrey Price

Well if you're going to be fed data from cameras, then who needs a cockpit at all? Seems to me the "cockpit" can be anywhere on the ground remotely fed data from the plane, then anyone can fly the thing. Maybe lag would be an issue for long distance flghts, but you'd mitigate that by handing off the feed to closer ground stations as the plane travels along.

AI can fly planes now anyway, who even needs a pilot.

Mark Thorne

The planes are already "fly by wire". If the electronics fail, you've got more serious problems then the pilot not being able to see. These planes can land in zero visibility... how important are old fashioned windows anyway? A digital window display could display other spectrums beyond visual, radar, infrared, whatever. Digital displays would allow automatic highlighting of other air traffic, man made obstacles, and you could have 3D topographic maps superimposed.

Michael Clemens

I think our engineering schools must be failing in a major way. There was a time when a key part of engineering something, anything, was looking at the worst case failure mode, and ensuring safety in that situation. Today's engineers don't seem to have any concept of that. From Google's driverless cars (what do you do when the map data is wrong, and it deposits you at the wrong location?) to this, engineers don't seem to plan for even trivial problems, much less catastrophic ones.

What do these idiots expect the pilot to do in the event of a total system shutdown? And don't tell me it can't happen. It might be highly unlikely. It might be one chance in 100 million. But with hundreds of thousands of flights every day, you need to assume it can happen eventually and engineer for it. Maybe they expect the co-pilot to hang out the door and yell instructions back to the pilot/


VFR = visual flight rules. IFR = instrument flight rules.

VFR requires navigation via land marks and other features. This is traditional 'flying'.

IFR means you base it on electronics. Internal gyroscopes, gps, and etc. You don't use eyeballs on the sky. This is required in order to fly through clouds, above a certain altitude, or even landing at certain airports.

Pretty much all commercial flights within the US are IFR. This means the pilot is flying by the numbers, not eyes on sky. If cockpit loses power you are already screwed anyway -- the hydrolics that move the control surfaces are all powered by it.

This is just a better way of displaying and will still have to meet the usual hardening standards. If you drop power to the cockpit you'll still be just as dead and for the same reasons as before -- the flight controls won't work.

And no, you can't see a damned thing out the viewports on final approach out of the modern passenger jets.


One additional thought. There is no reason why the display screen needs to display camera images. It could be an accurate animation which shows the location of all airside traffic from maintenance vehicles to taxiing aircraft. As I understand it, the limitation due to fog is that the ATC have to keep extra distances between approaching aircraft on finals in order to ensure that they have cleared the runway before the following aircraft lands and possibly hits them because they are hidden by the fog. If the animation were accurate, clear visibility conditions effectively exist in terms of positional information, bringing an end to delays due to fog.

Mel Tisdale

Putting all of your faith into 1 system is a terrible idea. That 1 system is "the electrical system". They already do that with the flight controls in a system that I like to call "die by wire".

One good lightning strike and the electrical system is down. That means all flight controls are would be dead too.

Now they want to blind the pilots too! When (just a matter of "when") the power goes out, I could imagine that flying blind into the ground would be one of the most terrifying experiences possible.


Need backup power & counter hacking to use windowless jetliner & or move cockpit to Center of Gravity for flight thenm, & use whole fueslage for cargo or passengers. See SST type in some Thunderbirds episode had cockpit in the trail, (from 1960s UK TV show) Radical Ideal for military IE next Gen B2

Stephen Russell

Ummm, no! Technology fails. be able to shutter the windows and use this tech but have viable windows in case of camera failure. haven't seen an infinite MTBF yet!


Re: Mel Tisdale "We know from 9/11 that Boeings are capable of being remotely piloted..."

No they are not. Neither is any Airbus or any other commercial airliner or cargo plane.

As for cameras, why hasn't it been a standard feature for at least the past 10~15 years for airliners to have four external cameras? One on top watching the tail, one underneath to watch the landing gear and one on each side looking back at the wings and engines? They could be mounted under flush, transparent covers.

There have been many incidents of mechanical failures where the flight crew had no idea what was wrong with their aircraft because the instruments are not designed to communicate things like stripped threads on an elevator actuator - a failure that took down a few 737's. The last one of those, with a camera to show exactly what was wrong, the crew could have tried to force the elevator back down by applying full up on the trim tab, then not using the elevator for pitch corrections. IIRC the failures were traced to poor maintenance and not having the actuator lube tested as often as required for wear particles.

Nor do they tell the flight crew why the heck the rudder had gone fully in the opposite direction the pilots are pushing the pedals. That was another failure that crashed a few 737's until one crew got lucky when the rudder suddenly started working correctly again and investigators were able to find out what the issue was and design a fix.

There was another 737 crash caused by a failed engine (IIRC poor maintenance or use of unauthorized used parts) that caught fire. The crew was used to older 737's where the cabin air was taken from only one engine compressor. They were flying a newer version that had cabin air from both engines. When smoke entered the cockpit the pilot cut throttle on the engine he assumed to be on fire, the one providing cabin air in the older planes. He had cut the throttle on the engine that was not on fire and throttled back the damaged one. It quit shaking the whole plane and smoke stopped coming in so he assumed all was OK. He also failed to look out the windows until it was too late, the plane was too low. He throttled up both engines but the plane didn't make it to the start of the runway. IIRC he also ignored a flight attendant who told him which engine was on fire, she had to be wrong because of the smoke that could only come from the other engine... Cameras looking back would have showed which engine was on fire, or just believing the flight attendant knew her port from her starboard.

For the Airbus crash in October 2011, a camera would have at least shown the dumb pilot that his hamfisted flying had ripped the tailfin off the plane. On that model of Airbus, the manual said that the rudder was not to be rapidly moved from fully one way to the other without a pause in the middle. Boeing builds their fins and rudders capable of being slammed back and forth without pause and without breaking things. That company believes in building airplanes tough enough that there's nothing the pilot can do with the controls that will damage it.

Airbus believes in building aircraft just strong enough and writing finely detailed procedures in the manuals about how to fly them. One of their big deals with their early fly by wire planes was saving fuel by only allowing just enough throttle to get the plane off the ground. After having at least one smacked down by a microburst and the incident at the airshow where the only way to get the plane to do a low pass was to setup the computer for landing, from which it would not allow full throttle - because landing doesn't need it - thus it plowed into the forest - Airbus' engineers finally allowed full manual throttle override at any time.

Full throttle takeoffs, even in calm and clear conditions, are always the safest because it gives the best chance to get away from problems, be they climactic or with the plane. Same for landings, as recently happened in Barcelona when a Russian Boeing 767 had to throttle up and abort landing when someone screwed up and an Airbus rolled across the runway. The Spaniards are claiming it's no big deal, there was plenty of room to land. Uh-uh! Once a "heavy" is on final approach NOTHING cuts across the runway at any point. Had the landing plane been an Airbus with their original computer knows best throttle control that could have been as bad as the collision at Tenerife.

Gregg Eshelman

Pilots don't actually spend much time at all looking out the window. Ever heard of IFR ?? This may horrify a lot of readers but most passenger planes do a lot of flying at night, and in zero visibility.. Good eyesight is useful when near the ground but not essential.


Two things: I hope the OS isn't Windows based. I would hate for the Captain to get the BSoD or have to hit CTL ALT DEL mid-flight. Second if you have enough confidence in the electronics to project the image then why does the pilot need to even be in the aircraft? Why not a giant warehouse full of simulated cockpits with Captains able to take breaks and rotate crews every hour?

Deneric Hansen

Another dumb idea.

Brian Olson

"... but it does tend to ruin the aerodynamics of the aircraft’s nose, which would ideally be lancet shaped."

Really? Behold the Boeing B-29, circa 1945:

J Phred

@ Gregg Eshelman You should mention that Boeing built almost as many 737s and Airbus has planes. There were probably less than 50 rudder valves capable of the reversing the input it took the two main parts of the valve being at the end of the design tolerances in the correct way and the valve had to be well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and the hydraulic fluid had to be overheated for the problem to occur. if it occurred the solution was to quickly apply opposite rudder which stopped the hydraulic fluid from following the wrong path through the valve (which could only happen on less than 50 of the thousands of valves) and then apply the rudder to get the response you wanted. At least 75% of the 737 pilots had heard rumors about the reversing phenomena and how to fix it before the crashes.

@ J Phred Don't forget the B-29 was pressurized.


The idea certainly provokes a strong reaction from a majority of posters. For me it seems like a logical step forward. l understand that most commercial jets are flown predominantly On instruments, and landings at night in fog and poor visibility are all done off instruments. I'd imagine that the proposed system could actually give the pilot more visual information to work off, combining camera, radar, sonar infrared and other systems to give good 'vision' in all conditions. As far as reliability and redundancy as concerned if it can be done with the aircraft controls I'd expect it can be done for visual Systems. Next step , remote pilots like drones!!

Jim Walker

@ Gregg Eshelman

Re remote piloting of Boeings on 9/11

Perhaps I could have chosen a more precise form words, sorry. The latest autopilot system, commonly called 'Highways in the Sky', I believe, is capable of flying the aircraft with great precision (to within a few feet). More importantly to the point I was making concerning hijackings, is that the autopilot flight-plan can be uploaded while in flight. As configured, it does require the pilot to confirm acceptance. This equipment was installed in the 9/11 aircraft and operational. What was lacking was the certification for commercial use, which was not obtained until 2003.

There is a strong suspicion that this was used on 9/11 not only because it would explain how a few inexperienced pilots, one of whom couldn't even fly a small Cessna, were able to fly at 150 mph above VOM into their targets, but also because United 175 (WTC 2) was able to make a 25 degree descending turn towards WTC 2 with constant bank angle from 1.5 miles out, considered impossible by experienced pilots. (Start the turn one second too early, or too late and it would have missed the building entirely, not to mention that the cross winds were sufficiently strong enough to require being adjusted for.)

From my knowledge of electronics and programming, if a system can accept uploading of instructions that result in a change to the flight path, then it should be possible to continuously upload instructions that result in real-time alterations to that flight path and thus effectively remotely fly the aircraft. It might need some clever hacking, but seeing as it was possible to arrange for 15 war games to take place on 9/11 that denuded the lower 48 states of fighter aircraft so that not one of the four aircraft involved was challenged, anything is possible.

So, to conclude: there is no reason why it should not be possible to remotely take control of any hijacked aircraft, either by forcing the aircraft system to switch to an autopilot flight-plan that is uploaded especially, or resides in memory for each flight, even if there is no one on the inside assisting in the execution of the hijack. However, if there is someone on the inside, then the sky's the limit as to what can be - and seemingly has been - achieved on at least one occasion.

Mel Tisdale

Why go to all the trouble of a large projection screen when the next generation fighter jets have high resolution helmet mounted screens that allows the pilot to look through any part of the plane, up, down, right, left or anywhere in between by just moving his/her head in the desired direction. A large 3D screen would require the pilots to use 3D glasses anyway. Not being a military plane would mean the helmet wouldn't be needed and the screens could be small enough to be about the size of large glasses or small goggles. Not having the large screen opens up room for small windows in case of emergency.

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