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X-59 Supersonic Airplane Will Have No Windows, Not Even for the Pilot

We all know by now that airplanes pretty much fly themselves. The autopilot technology in these things is so advanced that at times we can’t help wondering why human pilots are still part of the equation. Yet they are, and this is one of the reasons airplanes still have windows on their noses.
X-59 all-screen cockpit 5 photos
NASA QueSST airplaneNASA QueSST airplaneNASA QueSST airplaneNASA QueSST airplane
No matter how advanced the tech keeping airplanes safe is, humans still need to see stuff with their own eyes. It makes them feel safer, and at times it can even save lives if the history of air crashes taught us anything. But would pilots feel just as comfortable flying an airplane with no windows, one that uses screens instead?

If you have been watching NASA’s struggle to make civilian supersonic flight over land a reality, then you know by now of the X-59 research aircraft or the QueSST X-Plane. You might also be aware that NASA said two years ago that the thing would not have windows, not even for the pilot, but it will rely on a 4K monitor instead.

The reason for that is not some quirk of the NASA engineers, but a necessity born from the shape of the aircraft. Its long airframe and the 30-foot-long (9 meters) nose are not exactly window-friendly, so another solution had to be envisioned.

It took two years for the company selected to make this design a reality, Collins Aerospace, to come up with a solution, one it presented this week.

What the company is offering is something called Large Format Display. It will deliver to the pilot images captured by two cameras outside the aircraft and combine them with available terrain data and visual aids for airport approaches, landings, and takeoffs to create the perfect situational awareness for whoever will be flying the thing.

Collins’s hardware comprises a touchscreen with multi-function windows, HUD capability, and communication radios. The system also includes something called a multi-spectral enhanced vision system that will allow the pilot to land “in nearly all weather conditions using advanced visual sensors and multiple wavelength, infrared technology.”

There’s more than a year left until the X-59 is scheduled for its first flight. NASA plans to have it airborne over unnamed American cities and see if the idea it had for reducing sonic boom sound levels actually works.

press release

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