How often do you meet someone who says they love flying? Not as in ‘I’ve just got my pilot’s licence’ but ‘boarding a commercial flight gives me the biggest thrill. I relish the whole thing: getting to know the stranger sitting next to me and the opportunity to practise my contortionist skills. Long haul is my absolute favourite.’ That person is a rare beast. Yet should see some of the designs that are emerging in the aviation field become a reality, we might all be thinking differently…
Is it a bird, or a plane – or a whale? In the world of aviation, bigger and faster is better, so it is no surprise that the world’s largest plane, the gigantic Airbus A380, is unlikely to hold onto the top spot for long. One awe-inspiring contender is the AWWA Sky Whale, a concept aircraft from Spanish designer Oscar Viñals, boasting three decks, self-repairing wings, and swivelling engines to enable a near vertical take off. Other exciting visions include Lockheed Martin’s Supersonic Green Machine. Travelling twice the speed of sound, its inverted-V engine is designed to reduce the effects of sonic boom, potentially making it financially viable where Concorde was not.
Is the future windowless? Fuel efficiency is the key driver of aviation design so anything that can be made lighter is scrutinised – and that includes passenger windows. Dispense with the view and the lighter plane would have healthier fuel and maintenance costs. While we may appreciate a more affordable flight price, would a windowless plane not make us feel even more claustrophobic? Quite the contrary: by lining the walls with thin display screens, passengers could enjoy panoramic views of the environments through which they hurtle, or feature films, or even video conferencing.
Are you sitting comfortably? Seat design is arguably the most influential factor in a passenger’s flight experience. Shoulders rammed together, elbows jostling for supremacy on the armrest, long legs infringing on a neighbour’s territory – plane travel is just too intimate for comfort. However, this could change radically with a new design from Paris-based Zodiac Aerospace: seats facing opposite directions. In a row of three, the outer seats would face forward as they currently do, but the middle seat would face the tail of the plane, thereby easing the sardine effect. Or how about a double-tiered armrest? Created by Hong Kong firm Paperclip, this clever design allows both passengers to perch their elbow simultaneously, with no need for a funny bone war of attrition.