Why don't pilots look out the window?

I’ve been on an Air Crash Investigation binge today, and a common theme is that the pilots are so fixated on their instruments that they don’t bother doing any sort of visual physical inspection. Why is this? Is it because so much training is done in the simulator where you cannot physically look or go back and physically check?


Qantas Airways A380 out of Singapore: it was an hour before the third pilot was sent back to check the wings.

Embraer crash in Florida ‘Wounded Bird’: never realised the extent of the damage to the engine.

El Al crash in Amsterdam: never looked at the wing so never knew that the two engines had fallen off.

Flight 1549 - if the PIC had looked out of the window he’d have realised that his instruments were incorrect as his copilot was saying.

Passengers get REALLY nervous when the pilot walks down to Row 12, hunkers down and stares intently out the window. Of course, if an engine is physically missing or on fire, the passengers have probably already noticed.

In the first two examples I gave the passengers on that side knew but the pilots didn’t.

Tunnel vision. Especially during night flights. During a routine flight, unless you’re taking off or landing, I suspect there’s not much for a pilot to see out any of the windows.

Maybe it’s time planes came equipped with side-view mirrors or cameras. Then the pilots could look back and see a missing engine or whatnot without needing to go back and look out a window. Maybe they’d just fall off too.

A few reasons. First you can’t see much of the wing and engines from the cockpit. Second if it is a major problem you’re too busy dealing with it and can’t spare someone to go back and look. Cabin crew should be passing information forward if they think it is relevant but would probably wait till asked as they know the pilots will be extremely busy.

In 99.9% of emergencies physically looking at the engines doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already know.

I don’t get the relevance of 1549, what happened on that one that required looking out the window?

Which is why I mentioned mirrors or cameras.

Some aircraft do have cameras. I think the A380 has some cameras.

Richard hit it on the nose. I would hazard a guess that the underlying problem with the crashes you mentioned weren’t that they didn’t look outside. The problem was that they couldn’t see the big picture.

If an engine has fallen off, it will be obvious a number of ways (electrics, hydraulic pressure, oil pressure, the way the aircraft handles, etc.). There were probably larger problems (channelized attention, bad communication, a lack of knowledge) that looking out of a window wouldn’t have solved.

The passengers should have devices that warn the pilot. Engine on fire, press 1, Engine falls, off press 2, Wing falls off, press 3, ETC

If an engine falls off, it is NOT news to the flight crew.

The thing will have already made itself known, and a quick glance at engine instruments will tell them much more than will visual inspection.

p.s. - the engines on modern airliners are designed to fall off if crash is imminent - it is the engines which are superheated and provide ignition source for fuel fires - it you shed them before crashing, yo improve the (slim to good) chance that at least a few will survive.

An engine falling off in normal flight is very, very rare and, again, the aerodynamics of a missing engine will cause a quick glance at its gauges, which show the RPM of various parts of the compressor section N1, N2, and, I’d guess fuel flow. If N1 and N2 suddenly zero out, you know the engine is worthless. If it departs, the thrust (when running) or drag (if dead) will suddenly disappear.

Regardless if this was a designed departure, or an accidental one, the crew are much too busy trying to get the thing on the ground in one piece.

No, you can’t shed an engine before you crash, they will tend to separate during the crash though is that what you meant?

The last time I saw a cockpit of a commercial plane there was hundreds of analog gauges. I realize that pilots are used to them. Know where to look for information, etc. Do newer planes make use of digital displayed information?

Yes. Here’s a view of a 777 flight deck: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Nordwind-Airlines/Boeing-777-21B-ER/2370671/&sid=09b5272746391d677df6efad99bd8b66

Where does this come from?? Please give a site for this statement.

Think about it. Do you really want a system to eject the engines? Ejecting the engines will do many bad things. One of the severest is it will throw off the Center of Gravity (CG) making the aircraft hard to control, if control is even possible. It would also be like dropping two to four small bombs on the ground below. Well, small compared to Nukes anyway. One would also not want to sever fuel, hydrolic, oil, and electrical lines. Putting flammable fluids in close proximity to sparking wires and hot metal? Not a good idea. We want to AVOID fires, not start them.

Pilots are taught to look out the window. I am quite certain that almost all pilots do indeed look out the window. However, on a large commercial airliner, the view aft is limited. Most pilots will spend their time in an emergency looking at what they can see quickly, their gauges. They will not even consider spending the time needed to walk aft to look out a passengers window. They are very busy up there.

As has been said, pilots can tell from the values, or lack therein, on the gauges, as well as how the aircraft handles, if an engine has “departed the aircraft”. Please note that the only instance you gave where one pilot did look out the window, there were THREE pilots. While two were busy flying the plane, the third walked back for a look-see.

There are bolts which are designed to break and drop the engines if overstressed. It was metal fatigue in one of these bolts that caused the El Al crash.

The crew of El Al Flight 1862 never knew two of their engines had fallen off. They knew there were problems, but they never knew the engines were gone.

Small compared to most bombs too, I’d imagine, since an ejected engine in such a situation would be inert and basically just be a heavy object falling out of the sky (not entirely unlike the rest of the plane, at this point).

As many others have mentioned, the pilots may not be able to see much of the plane from the cockpit. I had a teacher in high school who lamented the removal of the tail gunner’s position in the back end of bombers* not because they had much defensive value against enemy fighters** but because the design of the tail gunner’s position (fighter pilot style canopy, but pointing out the back end of the plane) meant that he could see far more of the aircraft than the pilot could sitting 160 feet ahead of (well, behind) him.

  • A few later models of the B-52 kept the tail gun, but moved the gunner into the front of the plane.

** A grand total of two tail gunners scored aerial kills in Vietnam, both in December of 1972: Samuel Turner and Albert Moore.

Wow! Impressive. Thank you.

Well, if aircraft engineering is anything like starship engineering, you just KNOW that, when you really need to eject the engine, the ejection system is gonna be offline.