I was looking through an old copy of Smithsonian Magazine the other day and I noticed a photo of a 1930 airliner and something confused me. While it had glass windows and an enclosed area for the passengers (10), it had an open cockpit for the pilots. Why?
Why would designers make things relatively comfortable for the passengers but put the pilot out in the elements?
Since then I have noticed a few other such planes. The one I noticed was a French plane, a 1930 Bleriot-Spad. I have sinced noticed English de Havillands, Handley Pages, Vickers and German Dorniers that did the same (although not as late as 1930).
Are there any old plane buffs out there that know the answer to this or know someplace in particular I can find the answer?
In addition, it was common among pilots to think, or at least claim, that they could be more in tune with the airplane and what it was doing if they could feel the airstream around them. Remember that what few instruments they had weren’t all that useful, anyway. There may also have been an element of machismo and peer pressure among those who had always flown in open cockpits.
Horse-drawn carriages and early automotive limousines also commonly had the chauffeur exposed to the elements, while the passengers rode in enclosed luxury. Perhaps the same stylistic touches applied to early airliners?
Remember also that even though the passenger compartment was enclosed it still wasn’t pressurized, so the pilots weren’t a whole lot worse off, environmentally, than the passengers. OTOH, I suppose the passenger compartment was heated. Pressurization didn’t come into vogue until after the Second World War.
Göring (based on his WWI flying experience) was dead set against closed-cockpit fighters for quite a while - he’S rumoured to have told Messerschmitt that “A fighter pilot needs to feel the wind on his face”.
Speaking as a pilot who has flown/does fly open cockpit…
Yes, in some respects you are more “in tune” with flying when you’re out in the elements. For instance, you can develop an ability to judge airspeed to a very fine degree by the feel of the air against your face, you definitely have a different sensory experience of a slip, and the sound of the airstream hitting the structure of the plane can give you more information yet. Particularly for a pilot trained and accustomed to flying open cockpit (probably all the pilots at the point in time we’re talking about), and with instruments of questionable reliability, this might make a lot of sense.
As planes became faster, flew higher, flew in more unpleasent weather (trust me, rain is really really unpleasent hitting you in the face at 60 mph a half mile off the ground), and instrumentation became more reliable any advantage of an open cockpit vanished.
Yes, I think it’s because up until then Open-Cockpit flying was all anyone was really comfortable with. Right from the day of your first flight you association aviation with the wind, noise, and smell of an old radial aircraft in flight. Wrapping a shell around you would just feel uncomfortable.
There’s a 2-wheel enclosed car that is amazing. Accelerates like a motorbike (awesome), but has a leather, heated and air conditioned cocoon for two with a Blaupunkt stereo in it and get 50 mpg. Computer-controlled outrigger wheels retract and extend automatically to maintain balance.
They can’t sell them. It’s just too weird for consumers to accept for general transportation. The feeling of having your feet tied up while you’re losing your balance just freaks some people out.
I imaging the first people who flew in an enclosed cockpit felt the same way.