Small Aeroplanes

June 2, 2020

Chris bought his first SLR

Notes and QueriesRED TAPE, WHITE LIES

Why are the passenger windows on aircraft so small? Would it not reduce the feeling of claustrophobia and thereby make air travel more comfortable if the windows were larger?

Donal Donnelly-Wood, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

  • Windows on aircraft are small to maximise the areas of hull between them, to increase the strength of the air frame. The air frame would be stongest if the hull had no windows. Large windows were the cause of the loss of several De Havilland Comets (the world's first, UK built, commercial jet aircraft) as the strain put on the hull due to pressurisation caused metal fatigue in the slim areas of hull between windows, leading to at least two catastrophic ruptures at altitude.

    Andrew Gregg, Luton, Bedfordshire

  • Any discontinuity in the skin of the aircraft compromises its strength and potentially complicates the airflow. Big windows make weak fuselages - they were contributory to a series of disastrous crashes in the DH Comet airliner and resulted in the USA gaining the lead in civil aircraft design. Manufacturers would very much rather give us nothing at all, so think yourself lucky that we have what we have.

    Mick Burmeister, Stratford-on-Avon, UK

  • In addition to the 'fuselage strength' answers already given, there is another important reason. The designers have to allow for the possibility of a window blowing out at cruising altitude. Anybody sitting next to the blown out window will be sucked out of the plane, no matter how small the aperture. However, for the rest of the occupants, life depends on sufficient air pressure being maintained in the cabin to enable breathing; even with oxgen masks, humans cannot breath in the very low pressure at airliner cruising altitudes. The crew have to bring the aeroplane down to around 10, 000 feet before the outside air pressure allows normal breathing, and this can take several minutes. If the windows on planes were larger than they are at the moment, more cabin pressure would escape through the hole during the descent, to the extent that the cabin would become a lethal environment before the 10, 000 foot survival level was reached. Concorde's windows were particularly small because it cruised much higher (60, 000 feet) than conventional airliners (40, 000 feet), and would therefore take longer to descend to survivable outside pressure levels.

    Vince Chadwick, Wilmslow, Cheshire

  • As the biggest percent of passengers have no access to them thy could be done away with making the plane easier to construct stronger and faster more' fuel efficient.

    james stewart, glasgow strathclyde

  • I think the first two answers are a bit mixed up I studied the comet airliners and yes you are correct they did fail from metal fatigue but it was because the windows were riveted in rather than drilled and fastened. the small crack created from riveting caused the passenger cabin area to simply rip open. I have more information if anyone wants but I can't remember the failures being contributed to the window size but was because of riveting.
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