Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Fri September 16 2016

Can An Airplane's Design Mess With Your Mind?

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | September 16, 2016

Can An Airplane's Design Mess With Your Mind?

Photo by Paul Thompson

Would you believe that aircraft designers and spacecraft designers work together when they consider the comfort of their passengers?

This is a true fact for the 100-year-old Boeing corporation, and Dr. Rachelle Ornan-Stone, Regional Director Cabin Experience & Revenue Analysis and Boeing Commercial Airplanes Space Exploration Liaison shared how all of this comes into play at this year’s Future Travel Experience convention in Las Vegas.

“If I hear one more joke about being crammed into a plane like sardines, I’m going to lose my mind,” said Ornan. Her job puts her on both sides of the curtain, between commercial aviation as well as the space industry. “There is a lot of cross-pollination at unprecedented levels. We’re starting clear the cobwebs, it’s a very exciting time.”

READ MORE: Boeing: World's Fleet Size Will Double in 20 Years

Her background in psychology keeps her fascinated with human behavior in small spaces. If you think commercial aircraft are small, think of spacecraft. After all, the space industry has a reputation for small vehicles too — where people spend not just hours, but days, weeks and months in a confined space. The common theme between the two industries is spaciousness, or at least the sense of giving the passenger more space than they actually have.

“Connecting people to the magic of flying — that’s what people get excited about. We just have to remind them sometimes,” said Ornan.

Boeing’s latest-released commercial plane, the 787 Dreamliner introduced many to the concepts of spaciousness with a view to the outside, provided by its windows that are larger than any other commercial plane. Even in a middle seat in the middle seating section, you can look over to the window and still see the ground. In addition, those with window seats have control over how much light comes in, with electrochromatic window controls (dimmers) versus the traditional pull-down shade.

Spacecraft don’t have the same limitations as commercial planes. Each space has zones, said Ornan: passenger zones, stowage zones, etc. On a spacecraft in zero gravity, passengers can store things on any surface.

Ornan’s job is to ask questions. Why is an airplane galley design based on military history still in use? Why can’t we invest in designs that change to suit the functionality of that point in time? Why don’t we reset the rules?

The space industry puts things in small packages very nicely, like origami. Giant solar arrays just unfold when deployed. Both industries are based on what can you fit where, and what can you sell. For the space industry right now, the money is in payloads but soon, it will be people.

READ MORE: WATCH: Boeing Transforms Commercial Jets Into Cargo Planes

In the International Space Station, astronauts have the Cupola. A place where they can go and just be. Ornan says people want a tranquil, spa-like experience while they fly. They want the troubles of the world to disappear. A plane to inspire awe and be poetry for the soul. Yes, these are actual concepts received through feedback to Boeing’s conceptual designers.

With the 2011 introduction of their 787, Boeing even managed to reduce jet lag by changing the effective altitude of the aircraft cabin. This is just further proof that whatever your desires are when flying, manufacturers are taking them into account. From having an unobstructed view through the cabin, to having a place to put your shoes and socks, it’s all being considered. It may be another decade or two before major changes are made, but it’s going to happen. 


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