Editorial: Future Flight

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Updated: October 31, 2014 11:53 AM

Windowless planes would mean lighter fuselage and lower fuel costs

The aerospace industry is constantly looking for ways to cut costs on passenger aircraft and the latest experiment could be a preview of what flights will be like a few years from now, and its based on organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). OLEDs are a combination of advanced materials that give out their own light when activated by electricity. Unlike LCD and plasma displays, they do not need a backlight, so they use less energy and can be much thinner than other displays, while also providing a higher contrast. Currently, the focus is on wallpapering them on rooms, effectively turning the walls into lights. That could also revolutionise aircraft design by creating full length screens instead of windows on aircraft. The concept of the windowless plane is being tested at the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) in England that works with companies to develop new products. It imagines how large, hi-definition, ultra-thin and lightweight displays could form the inside of the fuselage, displaying images of the exterior from cameras mounted on the plane’s exterior.

Replacing windows with a flat, thin screen would cut fuel consumption. According to the CPI, for every 1% reduction in the weight of an aircraft, there is a fuel saving of 0.75%. CPI looked at cargo planes which have no windows and are cheaper to fly. The challenge was the passenger experience, many would be terrified flying in a windowless aircraft. That’s when CPI came up with the futuristic plan involving screen panels reflecting whatever view of the outside the passenger wanted. The key would be flexible OLEDs, which would allow the creation of screens suitable for an aeroplane. By creating flexible displays, it would allow passengers to see outside while using a lighter fuselage and cutting costs, and, hopefully, air fares.

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