Monday, September 26, 2016

Flying on a wing and a tube

Going back nearly to the beginning of flight, airplanes have been a tubular fuselage help up by a center mounted wing.  Empennage at the tail kept the aircraft flying straight, the way the feathers on an arrow do.  After airliners were pressurized, the fuselage became truly round, to withstand the pressure.  And the long tubular fuselage offers a window at every seat.  The window view is cherished by passengers and the overall lightness in the cabin helps reassure claustrophobic passengers. 
   Aerodynamics whines that the big fuselage contributes no lift, just drag.  The ideal design would be a flying wing, like the B2 Spirit bomber, where all the metal of the airframe contributes lift.  And every few months Aviation Week will run a classy looking future airliner picture, either a pure flying wing, or a "blended wing body" a flying wing with a swelling in the middle to form the passenger compartment. 
    What they don't talk about is windows.  The passenger compartment has to be a tube shape to hold the pressure.  If you just pressurized the whole flying wing, or the blended wing body, it would go "pop".  In fact we had that happen on a long obsolete Air Force transport, the C-133.  So the zippy future airliners don't get windows, or window seats, because windows in the pressurized passenger compartment would just look out into the insides of the wing, full of girders and fuel tanks and wire bundles and "stuff".  No daylight, no view of the ground,  no relief for claustrophobes. 
   And, IMHO, that is why zippy flying wing airliners will remain on the pages of Aviation Week rather than on the flight line.  I don't think airlines will buy them. 

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