This post was most recently updated on August 12th, 2020
The front window, that is.
I was asked to write something about what it’s like in an airliner cockpit. If I was writing for other aviators or buffs, it would probably be along the lines of what it takes to be a crewmember; discuss procedure, technology, “right stuff”, etc. But my first thought at this request was to describe what it’s like to look out that front window. Compared to the side windows, the front ones are very clear and undistorted, much larger, and there are no wings in the way. And on most airliners there are no propellers swinging around in front of you.
The view is great. First of all, one is generally high up. You have a vantage point that rivals that obtained on any mountain peak (but you are considerably safer and much warmer!) You are tempted to wonder if this is the view God has, when He’s in “overall perspective” mode. It doesn’t matter if all it is outside is blue sky with white puffy clouds that you’re flying in and out of. Maybe it’s the sensation of incredibly high speed when flying close to a cloud.
…from 45,000 feet on a clear, moonless night, just at the end of evening twilight, over Colorado headed west. One can see the lights of every major city from Vancouver BC to San Francisco with the thin thread of Interstate 5 between, and the last remaining hue of this day’s sunlight, clearly demonstrating the curvature of the earth.
…or eastbound over the Pacific with a fast jet-stream tailwind, and observing the sunrise transition from total black, to suddenly and with seemingly little notice, being blinded by that ball of fire popping over the horizon.
…or flying round-trip across the polar ice cap in the summer, spanning 28 hours from take-off to return landing with the sun always behind you. In winter, gazing at the same set of blazing stars against jet black.
…or in deep winter crossing over the Alaskan mountains with the moving colored beams of Aurora reflecting off the snow-covered mountains below, casting no shadows, just reflecting kaleidoscope-like streams of color.
So there’s a joke in the aviation industry, often repeated by airline pilots getting ready to leave the operations office to go mount their steed, “We’d better go if we want a seat by the window”. You know they are always talking about the FRONT window.
In the future, you might be able to see everything the pilot sees as you fly…
(This post is written by my father, Dave Zehrung, who has flown in the military and for Alaska Airlines as a navigator — thanks so much, Dad!)