A View to a Kill

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So, I’m comfortably reclining in seat 18A on my plane trip back from…  Well, wait a minute.  I’m not actually reclining, because if I did, the gentleman with long legs behind me would be certain to get fractured knees.  So, no.  I’m sitting rather upright.  I’m just polite that way.

I’m not particularly comfortable either.  Airplane seats, in coach anyway, don’t quite compare with the hospitality afforded by my leather recliner in my den.  They’re built to be minimally adequate for the purpose at  hand, packing as many people as possible into the cabin while minimizing the weight.  “Packed like sardines” is an overused term, but the phrase might be appropriate here for hypothetical premium sardines, which would be individually wrapped and arranged in a plain tin.  

So, then, I’m sitting rather stiffly in an upright position in seat 18A on my plane trip back from…  Well, I’m actually leaning to the left slightly, enjoying the benefit of my exclusive rights to the armrest by the window.  However, there remains the other armrest, a politer DMZ than between North and South Korea, but still coveted ground. 

First, it’s not that the dude beside me is so large that his girth precludes me from using the armrest.  .  However, that said, his left arm is braced against his side, his forearm hovering just inches above the armrest.  Formidable, he is.  If could possible tunnel under him and seize the territory, but that would necessarily include that awkward moment of “We’re touching” which would result in both of us moving our arms away, then reclaiming position, then... there would the political fallout of “I’m sorry” and “No, you go ahead” and blah, blah, blah.  Hence, “my” right armrest is effectively relegated a “no man’s zone,” fearing some mutual nuclear destruction.

Which leaves me wondering two things:

1) This guy next to me...  And forgive me for noticing things, but that’s what I’m trained to do.  Unshaven, wrinkled shirt, dirty hands, fingernails caked with dirt,  grease (paint? charcoal?) smudged blue jeans, hole-y sneakers… all enveloped in an odor of “yesterday.”  Yeah, his nuclear option is more powerful than mine, but aside from that, he’s reading a New Yorker magazine and wears a few thousand bucks of Omega on his wrist.  What’s the story here?

2) Airplane windows.  I’d really like a airplane windowwide-screen, plasma high definition experience as I look out the window, without having to pilot the aircraft.  Or a hang glider.  Or a parachute.    What’s up with the diminutive acrylic portals that are spaced conveniently as often as not?

The first, I’ll never know.  But the second is workable.  Back in my school days, such a formidable intellectual inquiry might have taken unfathomable time in a public library to research.  Today, however, the answer is only a few clicks away thanks to the Grand Enabler, Google.  Really, isn’t technology amazing?

Well, fear not!  I’ll share the answer.  A contributing factor to size, and particularly the spacing, of aircraft windows is the weakening of the hull.  If you were to have a window that cut through several vertical support struts, then repeat this around the hull, it’s reasonable to assume that a design akin to swiss cheese would not provide a desirable factor of safety. 

Also, one source mentioned the need to run cables, hoses and wires through the walls vertically, and (very pleasing) wide windows might not allow room for both the bones and the circulatory system of the plane.  I mean, we do want lights, an air nozzle, and a stewardess call button, don’t we?  Oh, and a lit reminder to keep our seatbelts fastened and not to smoke.  Those are important as well. 

Despite those two factors, the main reason for the small window size is cabin pressurization.  There’s little oxygen in the air at high altitudes (above 10,000 ft), so by pressurizing the aircraft cabin, the outside air is made dense enough that we get enough oxygen into the space to breathe normally.  Otherwise, we’d all be breathing through something like those unsightly yellow breathing apparatus that are demonstrated for emergency procedure throughout the flight. 

The engineering obstacle, as documented by some earlier designs of higher altitude aircraft, is that the outward pressure on the hull (and, therefore, each window) is significant (8 psi or more).  If not designed properly, the glass would indeed burst, and then bad things happen.  Or, if placed too closely together, the thinner and therefore weaker sections of steel, rivets, Bondo, and best wishes that make up the air frame between the windows would give way, leading to the same bad ending.

In other words, no wide-screen viewing is likely for the foreseeable future.  A footnote: square windows were, by trial and likely rather unfortunate errors, gradually reduced to the rounded corners we now have as they were more likely to begin cracking in the corners.

Following related comments varying from technical questions for windows on particular models of aircraft to radiation exposures to conspiracy theories of hiding alien fleets in low orbit from passengers’ views, a favored subject is whether or not our bodies (notably, 55% to 60% water for adults) could be sucked out of a broken window at high altitude.  There is overwhelming support from the forum lurkers (which surely makes it fact) that a suddenly depressurized airplane is much like popping a balloon, only with all the pressure being ported through that single broken window adjacent to, say, seat 18A.

And it’s this kind of thinking that should persuade me to crack the knees of whoever is behind me, insert the ear-buds, put my iPod on “shuffle,” and close my eyes until I reach my fated destination.

Mythbusters, please illuminate us.

1 comment :

  1. Mythbusters indeed! http://mythbustersresults.com/episode10

    My favorite view of the depressurization effect that "happens" was via Gold Finger when the baddie fired at James and missed.

    I don't miss the flying days and your post cements that point!

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