If you're the sort of person who always tries to get a window seat when you book an airline flight, imagine being able to get an even better view. What if you could pay a small charge and climb up a ladder into a clear plastic cockpit mounted on the roof of the aircraft's fuselage, and enjoy not just a view of the sky and the ground below you, but the exterior of the aircraft as well?
Someday soon, you may be able to do just that. Windspeed Technologies, an Everett, Washington-based aerospace company, recently unveiled a conceptual design for SkyDeck (watch the above video), a teardrop-shaped canopy that could be installed on the top rear of either airliners or the sort of private jets in which corporate bigwigs travel. Passengers would either climb a ladder into the viewing area or ride in a small elevator to get to the vantage point.
Windspeed describes SkyDeck as "the next exciting experiential in-flight entertainment for VIP aircraft owners and the airline industry." It also might provide airlines with a diversion for which they could charge a fee, as they do for in-flight video programming from Showtime and other networks, and for inflight WiFi connections.
Windspeed co-owner and engineering director Bruce Stewart says the company hopes to partner with a big aircraft manufacturer to bring SkyDeck to market. The company estimates installing a SkyDeck would cost between $8-$25 million for wide-bodied jets, and approximately $3-$6 million for smaller jets like a Gulfstream or the Boeing 737 that would use a staircase, as shown in this video, rather than elevator.
According to Stewart, SkyDeck is designed to provide an experience that's a lot more exciting than looking out from a cabin window.
"Sitting on top of the plane would be almost like being the pilot," he explains. "You're seeing the entire sky and the ground, but you can also see the entire plane from 360 degrees, and how it works when you're flying — what the control surfaces on the wing do, for example."
The canopy would be made of the same sort of sturdy impact-resistant plastic used in fighter jet canopies. It would be located in the aircraft's rear, because research indicates that placement there would have the least effect on the aircraft's aerodynamic properties. The canopy also would have an UV protection and an anti-condensation film on its surface to prevent it from getting fogged up.
"I think that realistically, it's an after-market add on," Stewart says, rather than something airline companies could insert into their established jet construction processes. "It would take quite a bit to incorporate SkyDeck into an aircraft assembly line."
While paying a few extra bucks for a chance to sit in a small bubble on top of the plane sounds like fun, you might wonder why they don't just put really big windows along the sides of the cabin. Stewart says doing so would require too many structural modifications to the airplane. Big windows would have to be reinforced along the edges to avoid weakening the walls, and that would add a substantial amount of weight — an aviation industry no-no.
Big windows also make aviation designers a bit nervous because the world's first commercial jet aircraft, the de Havilland Comet, was equipped with them, and it had two mid-air accidents in which the metal fatigue on the slim part of the hull between the windows caused catastrophic ruptures. Not even a great view's worth that.
Windspeed says that once it receives an order for a SkyDeck, it will take about 18 months for completion of the order, though the plane receiving the feature would only be out of commission for the final three to four months for installation and testing.