Visibility from a Cockpit

Farhan
  • Visibility from a Cockpit Farhan

    In smaller planes, pilots has apparently great visibility in front, on the sides and a good portion of the rear of the plane. But as the plane's size is increased, the visibility is also reduced. One obvious factor is height of the cockpit from ground, but it appears (from pictures) that pilots of bigger Boeing/Airbus planes have too many blind spots. However, I did notice that some bigger planes have a camera behind the nose gear to ease in taxiing etc.

    So the question is that how do pilots compensate for this lesser visibility? Do they always need external help (e.g. ground crew)? Is there some sophisticated technology helping them? I am sure they cannot just raise or lower a wing or some other maneuver to check nearby traffic.

  • Small aircraft are generally under VFR rules, where they need to have that visibility to look out for other traffic. Larger aircraft usually operate under IFR rules, where (as ratchet pointed out) ATC helps to separate traffic, and TCAS will help as well. At the high speeds at which they fly, visual separation is less useful, anyway.

    Also, especially when you start travelling faster, what matters most is what's in front. If everyone makes sure they don't run over someone, you shouldn't have to worry about getting hit from behind.

    When at the gate, most aircraft (even the smaller ones) will have a person guiding them in, and during pushback the tug driver has a better view and wing walkers make sure the wing tips clear.

    When taxiing, pilots will get a feel for how to control the aircraft from training and experience. Especially in large airplanes, they can be sitting significantly forward of the front landing gear, making it a bit disorienting to maneuver if you are not used to that.

    However, incidents happen. You may recall recent incidents where planes have clipped each other while taxiing, such as this one at LAX. Because of these incidents, the NTSB has recommended that improvements such as cameras would help avoid these situations.

    The A380 has a camera on its tail that helps the pilots stay aware, but it is unique in this regard (though it doesn't appear to have a wide enough view to include wingtips).

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  • On the ground, pilots of commercial airliners taxi without the help of ground crews except for entering and departing the gate area. Once out on the taxiways they follow the painted line. Keeping the nosewheel on the line pretty much guarantees that there is enough clearance for the plane including the wingspan.

  • Appearances can be deceiving. The view "behind" a Piper Cherokee looks something like this: No rear window so you can't see what's behind you, but that really doesn't matter since there's no way to go "backward" in this aircraft using the flight controls.

    Visibility aside, ground handling is often a a complex production, particularly for larger aircraft or when you have a lot of aircraft in proximity to each other or obstacles.

    Moving small aircraft around typically requires at least 3 people - When you're moving forward you will have the person operating the tug and two "wing walkers" (who stand a few feet off the wingtips an walk along to make sure the wings aren't going to hit anything). When pushing an aircraft back in a tightly packed hangar there's sometimes a fourth person walking ahead of the tail to make sure you don't back the plane into something.
    Since there's not usually much for the pilot to do inside the plane at this point they usually serve as one of the walkers.

    Larger aircraft observe similar procedures, but for push-backs or power-backs it's known that the area behind the aircraft is clear (this is usually coordinated over the radio), and as long as the tug driver or pilot keeps the nosewheel on the appropriate pavement markings there will be wingtip clearance.

    Line personnel are also often stationed to guide aircraft to and from parking in close quarters where positioning is critical (e.g. when pulling an airliner up to a gate, or parking a small aircraft on a busy ramp),


    The other half of the picture is taxiing under your own power and control.

    When taxiing it's generally assumed that the pilot knows their aircraft's dimensions and will avoid hitting things (this usually works out well, but that is not always the case).

    Airport taxiways are marked so an aircraft with a specific maximum wingspan will be clear of any obstacles while taxiing along the centerline, and as you're generally only going forward that's where visibility is most important (you can assume if the area your wingtip was going to hit was clear 15 seconds ago when you last saw it and nothing was heading into that area it's still clear now, and you're relying on the pilot of the aircraft behind you to be paying attention and not taxi into your tail).

  • Large planes generally have quite good visibility. In a document A319/A320/A321 Flight Deck and Systems Briefing for Pilots (can be found in many places on the net, e.g. on slideshare as presentation), or page 16 Airbus shows following diagram of visibility from cockpit:

    A319/A320/A321 flight deck - pilot's field of view

    20 degrees below horizon straight ahead is probably better than most single-engine GA aircraft with large engine cowling in front of the cockpit.

Related questions and answers
  • In smaller planes, pilots has apparently great visibility in front, on the sides and a good portion of the rear of the plane. But as the plane's size is increased, the visibility is also reduced. One obvious factor is height of the cockpit from ground, but it appears (from pictures) that pilots of bigger Boeing/Airbus planes have too many blind spots. However, I did notice that some bigger planes have a camera behind the nose gear to ease in taxiing etc. So the question is that how do pilots compensate for this lesser visibility? Do they always need external help (e.g. ground crew

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  • I see that big planes (for example B737, A319 etc and up) always need a staircase or a boarding tunnel in order for crew or passengers to enter the cabin since the position of the entry door is quite high (meters above the ground). What solutions are there if none of these options are available? (Except, obviously, for aircraft like DC-9's/MD-82 and 727's which had the rear entrance) How could the pilots get in? Is there some sort of manhole under the aircraft that can be opened to get inside with a sliding staircase or similar? Living in Africa, I have been to a couple of airstrips where

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  • and that's why I don't hear reply, however on approach side much bigger distances are heard in my area) Thank you I did verify that indeed the aircraft that I don't hear read back from receives... by the pilots per this question however on more than one occasion I don't hear read back on critical vector info on departure, despite the visual confirmation of instruction (pilot making proper vector and speed adjustments). I tend to notice this with bigger birds (777,747,340), however smaller regional jets almost always promptly read back. Questions: Is there an alternative way of ATC

  • ground level. Although I don't see any obstructions that high during this segment of the approach, as far as I know instrument approaches are supposed to guarantee a 500 ft obstacle clearance, do...Non-precision instrument approaches generally have altitude restrictions which get lower when you get closer to the airport. I always figured these restrictions were AMSL using the current altimeter setting, not compensating for temperature. Some have heard the mnemonic that mountains are higher come wintertime, which basically means that colder weather make your altimeter read higher than you

  • The major reason that lead Aeroflot Flight 593 to crash was the partial disengagement of the of autopilot (by the pilot's kid who was in the cockpit) which could have been avoided if the pilots were more familiar with the Airbus 310-100 or there was an audible alert. Do new Airbus aircrafts have an audible alert in such cases now? were the old ones some how altered to implement this?

  • out? It seems like a somewhat practical solution, yet I have never heard of anyone doing it. Why do pilots often try to find a road to land on or a lake to ditch in when trouble strikes instead... as well land. But what about in a light, single engine plane (think Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee)? Engine failures in small aircraft, for example, seem to be more common, so you have more accidents that start high above the ground. Thus, you usually have a few minutes before you're going to hit the ground and there's often only 1 or 2 passengers (rather than 100). Plus, you're usually already

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