Modern commercial aviation is incredibly safe. Despite several high-profile disasters, including the deliberately crashed Germanwings plane, the bombed Russian charter jet and the caught-on-video Taiwanese take-off accident, 2015 saw an accident rate of one in 5 million flights, according to aviation industry analyst Flightglobal. If you exclude the premeditated crashes, the Aviation Safety Network would call it the safest year for aviation on record.
Still, things could always be safer, right? That’s the thinking behind an odd-looking plane design, which has been making the media rounds lately. Dreamed up and posted on YouTube by Vladimir Tatarenko (reported to be a Ukrainian aviation engineer), the design is for a detachable airliner cabin, which would fall away from the wings, engine and cockpit in case of an accident, landing safely with parachutes. While critics say the design would not be cost effective, the idea of parachuting away from certain doom no doubt appeals to nervous flyers.
Tatarenko’s detachable cabin is far from the only wild plane design to emerge in recent years. Here are some of the strangest aviation ideas in recent history.
In 2015, Airbus filed a patent for a design for a double-decker cabin seating arrangement. Passengers would literally sit one on top of the other, with upper-tier passengers climbing steps or a small ladder to reach their seats. Rather euphemistically referred to as “mezzanine seating,” the inventors claim it “still provides a high level of comfort for the passengers using the seat arrangement.” Those of us who routinely fly economy class may quibble with the word “still.” While the design does have some advantages—at least some of the seats would be able to recline to 180 degrees—the idea of climbing a ladder during turbulence seems shaky.
The 1960s and 1970s were bad decades for hijackings. Between 1968 and 1973, hijackers commandeered more than 130 planes in American airspace, usually demanding a diversion to Cuba. The problem was so common all commercial cockpits carried maps of the Caribbean and landing instructions for Havana’s main airport. In this context, Gustano Pizzo’s anti-hijacking system, for which he filed a patent in 1972, might not have seemed so strange. In this system, hijackers would be trapped (pushed? thrown?) into capsules, which would be dropped through bomb bay doors in the belly of the plane. The capsules would be equipped with parachutes, ensuring the hijackers a safe landing. Some 40 years after the patent filing, Pizzo was posthumously awarded an Ig Nobel prize for his daffy invention.
Detachable Cabins For Fast Turnaround Times
This patent, awarded to Airbus just a couple months ago, is also for a detachable cabin. But unlike Tatarenko’s, Airbus’s concept is for efficiency, not safety. Rather than waiting for a flight to arrive, deplane and be cleaned, passengers could simply board a ready cabin, which would be snapped into the plane’s body as soon as it was ready. When the plane reached its destination, the cabin would be detached again for immediate deplaning. Different cabins with different kinds of seating or levels of luxury could be used for flights of different lengths or destinations.
For ideal aerodynamics, airplane noses should be long and pointy. But there’s the whole “pilots have to fit in the cockpit” problem. Well, what if the cockpit didn’t have to go in the nose of the plane? That’s part of the thinking behind this Airbus patent application, which proposes replacing the plane’s windshield with a digital viewing surface. Without a windshield, there’s no reason the cockpit needs to go in the front of the plane. It could go in the belly of the plane, or even in the tail.
Lest you think Airbus is the only company in the strange patents contest, Boeing’s got its own doozy of an entry, filed in 2013. With this invention, passengers looking for a nap can find an “upright sleep system” tucked into a backpack beneath their seat. The system includes a head and chest cushion, and slings to support the arms, all attached to the seat with straps, allowing the passenger to recline leaning forward. In action, the whole thing somewhat resembles a traction device for someone who’s been in a terrible accident. But we won’t knock it until we’ve tried it. It can hardly be worse than those inflatable doughnut-shaped pillows.