So Why Don't Airplane Windows Open?

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When I first read about Mitt Romney's lamenting the lack of roll-down windows in bizjets, I thought someone had nailed a headline from The Onion. (Cue the submarine screendoor joke.) But sure enough, he said it and, sure enough, he was joking. This set off a mini-frenzy around the Web of (a) seriously explaining why windows in airplanes don't roll down and (b) this hilarious video compendium of every sensationalistic, overblown, high-production value special effect of every cabin blowout the editors could find. And yes, it includes the iconic scene of Goldfinger being sucked through a cabin window.

Romney was clearly joking. After all, everyone knows why the windows in airplanes don't roll down and I needn't go into the explanation for the AVweb audience, other than to mention it has as much to do with structure as with fatal hypoxia. So why didn't the joke work? I've watched the video a half-dozen times and I've concluded that for a joke to be funny, there has to be no doubt in the listeners mind that it really is a joke and that the teller knows he's saying something absurd. But the fact that numerous news outlets felt it necessary to explain in lavish if not entirely accurate technical detail why the windows in airplanes don't roll down is a slow-motion version of the you-had-to-be-there defense when a joke bombs.

Maybe a little self-deprecation in the telling would have helped. Or perhaps a better straight man. I suspect we'll see the specter of Romney actually being asked to explain why the windows don't roll down. And the joke will be on the asker.

Comments (42)

Well there I always knew there were people who don't understand aviation (maybe 90% of the world's population). I have to blame the Brits for most of it "James Bond" movies and the How to get rid of the baddie in a jet. Got to love those shots of the instruments and the best part of Bond dusting himself off and walking away not suffering hypoxia. Now is Rachel Maddow joking or is she really so nieve as to believe the joke of all tongue in cheek movies "James Bond". I was listening to a young boy a while back telling his friend how a helicopter can go at the speed of sound. When challenged he simply stated that Airwolf (the black helicopter TV series for those that never saw it) can do it so as far as he was concerned it was a fact. Too many people believe what the TV and Movies dish up as fact and the worst part is they use those inexactitudes to base their arguments on.

The real reason why windows won't open on airplanes is so that once you are in the aircraft there is no way you can get out. You paid for your flight and by gum you are going to fly there :-)

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 26, 2012 5:14 AM    Report this comment

Bruce, you forgot to mention the really big problems with roll down windows: people sticking their heads out to see better and throwing 'stuff' out. Talk about a littering problem! :)

Posted by: Richard Norris | September 26, 2012 5:56 AM    Report this comment

It fell flat in the Liberal media because lefty news writers know Romney and Ryan will win in November and are grasping for any straw to prevent this. Obama and Biden provide us all with a gaff or more daily, but you won't see many in the heavily-biased liberal media ridicule them for that. Stand up, Chuck! Corpse-man! 58 States!

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 26, 2012 7:53 AM    Report this comment

Roll down windows on a 747? My dog would love it.

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 26, 2012 7:59 AM    Report this comment

The real reason that the windows don't roll down is because labor unions tried to get workers at the factory an incentive pay raise for installing the window regulators and tracks. The manufacturers balked at the idea of paying more when they already had these workers captive. The the mechanics union piped in and decided they wanted a stipend for their people to maintain the complex crank handles and the ever bothersome window seals, always having to be lubed and coated with silicone. The whole thing ended up in a senate appropriations committee review of aircraft windows and we all know how government works. Those documents are obviously still laying on a desk somewhere and this is an election year.

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | September 26, 2012 8:02 AM    Report this comment

Nothing exposes the absurdity of the liberal mind more than them displaying their “intelligence”.

Posted by: David Reville | September 26, 2012 8:18 AM    Report this comment

I'd cop the weight penalty to have em in a low and slow airplane :-). Soft top too. Sunny day, wind in my nose hair, now we're talking.

Posted by: John Hogan | September 26, 2012 8:30 AM    Report this comment

I don't know if he was joking or not, and I do not care. To hear those words from a person who is supposed to be above all that detail is disappointing. I would compare Mitt Romney now to John Kerry eight years ago - same weakness, same self-serving arrogance and ineptitude, same detachment from real world outside the window of his aircraft. There is really one choice for the next potus, and that's too bad, no point watching the show. I propose an informal poll: how many people will vote M.R., how many B.O.? Lightspeed or Bose :-)

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | September 26, 2012 9:17 AM    Report this comment

A cabin fire being fed more oxygen is akin to Homer Simpson getting more donuts. I can almost hear the fire saying ala Homer "mmmmmmmmmm. . . . more oxygen" (Ref: Valujet 592 and Swissair 111)

Yup, Mitt, that's what you need in an inflight cabin fire situation: more O2 to fan the flames. Sigh.

Posted by: David Rosing | September 26, 2012 9:31 AM    Report this comment

Romney and Bose. And add the Apollo 204 fire to the list.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 26, 2012 9:44 AM    Report this comment

Oh yeah, I forgot Apollo 1. Good catch.

But I'm a David Clark guy . . . .

Posted by: David Rosing | September 26, 2012 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Because most of the human race are morons; see the Howard Stern interview(s) of people on the street. 100% said they thought Obama could get bin Laden if he was re-elected to another term. They all thought that him selecting Paul Ryan as a black, Mormon running mate was a good idea.

We're doomed.

Posted by: John Hyle | September 26, 2012 9:57 AM    Report this comment

Actually, good airplanes do have roll down windows. A few I can think of; Fairchild 24, Howard DGA and the Beech Staggerwing. Maybe Mitt should get a different campaign airplane. Imagine, waving to the crowd while taxiing to the ramp in a Staggerwing. It would get my vote.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | September 26, 2012 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Great memories of cruising through the Caribbean with my elbow stuck out the side window of a DC-3 aside, I'm with Mr. Hyle. The joke would have been fine if the majority of the American population didn't have the IQ of a rotted potato.

Posted by: Scott McGowin | September 26, 2012 10:34 AM    Report this comment

The European answer to this issue might be the smoke hood. These can be purchased in U.S. from pilot shops and kept in the travelers carry-on luggagge, pocket or purse until needed. Frequent travelers should consider this simple device that could save their life.

Posted by: Donald Wiltse | September 26, 2012 11:04 AM    Report this comment

Sorry Richard you're right.

I do remember having a flight in a 19..footsack Junkers the German War II transporter with three engines now that was sophisticated had roll down windows and on both side. In fact it was on all the windows. So what's wrong with everybody? If the Germans could do it in 1936 then why can't we do it now. Did the Germans possess better technology then than we do now? Remember the Egyptians, they built the pyramids way back in time forgotten. Wow what is happening to the human race that we continually lose our technology?

Thank you Paul for such a good laugh today.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 26, 2012 11:16 AM    Report this comment

I think a Cessna 195 might have roll downs. My Cub has a roll down window. When you crank the trim, it causes the pitch to wiggle, loosening the thumbscrew on the window and causing it to crash down.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 26, 2012 11:31 AM    Report this comment

'It fell flat in the Liberal media because lefty news writers know Romney and Ryan will win in November and are grasping for any straw to prevent this.'

Now that's how you tell a joke. It fulfills both criteria that Paul gave for understanding.

Posted by: David Miller | September 26, 2012 12:12 PM    Report this comment

Bruce, if you'll recall, the pyramids didn't have windows, much less roll down windows. Probably the reason their empire tanked.

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 26, 2012 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Lol. I'll just take my tongue out of my cheek so I can talk . Actually Richard the pyramids do have windows but you can only see certain stars through them must admit they don't roll down. Unless you put a stone at the entrance and let it go. Watch out below. Now did the spaceships that used the pyramids to land on have roll down windows?

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 27, 2012 4:42 AM    Report this comment

The problem of people outside of aviation being just plane dumb (pun very much intended) would hardly be confined to M.R. alone.

As a member for 30+ years of the southeast Michigan automotive engineering community, I have always been aware - and alarmed - by how dumb all too many people in positions of power over the auto industry are, when it comes to engineering tradeoffs involving the cars we drive.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | September 27, 2012 7:43 AM    Report this comment

If airplane windows rolled down, then Romney's dog could stick his head out in the breeze instead of being strapped to the top of the fuselage! Seriously, what the heck does aeronautical knowledge have to do with being a good presidential candidate?

Posted by: Randy Banta | September 27, 2012 8:04 AM    Report this comment

Bruce, those spaceships were rather primitive open cockpit types.

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 27, 2012 8:11 AM    Report this comment

Windows? Who needs stinkn windows when you have a sliding hatch? There is nothing better than sliding the hatch back on my Tiger and putting a jaunty elbow on the ledge.

Posted by: Nelson Swartz | September 27, 2012 8:13 AM    Report this comment

Because airlines have redundant turn signal, brake and back-up light systems.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | September 27, 2012 8:26 AM    Report this comment

As stated previously,it is a case of the dumb being led by the dumber. By this, I mean the dumbest, (the general media,) having no concept of what they are writing about, and favoring one political party over the other. They then use the comment, joke, pun, whatever, to show how stupid that person may be, while totally disregarding the outright lies and half truths spouted by the opposition. Seems like the media wants to become lawyers, by avoiding placing comments in their true context.

Posted by: Doyle Frost | September 27, 2012 8:31 AM    Report this comment

The 46' Fairchild 24 my dad used to own did indeed have roll-down windows. It wouldn't make a good campaign airplane though, too slow. Sorry, Mitt.

Posted by: Kurt Selbert | September 27, 2012 8:35 AM    Report this comment

The media took the opportunity to demonize both aviation and republicans in the same story...color me shocked.

Posted by: Barrett Thompson | September 27, 2012 9:52 AM    Report this comment

Actually, there are some aircraft which have windows which can be opened in flight. If I recall correctly the windows in the Cessna 172 and 182 that I used to fly in were able to be opened (hinged at the top, push out at the bottom} at 80 knots or below at which point you could accelerate to whatever speed you wished. Used to do so for taking photos. The pictures came out much sharper by not shooting through the plexiglas. Also I recall a Widgeon with slide open windows which could be opened in flight. Information is in the aircraft operating manual.

Posted by: Richard Caldera | September 27, 2012 10:36 AM    Report this comment

My '54 Cessna 195B had a roll-down window on the PIC side.

Posted by: Edward Baker | September 27, 2012 11:09 AM    Report this comment

I could be remembering wrong, but the Stinson Reliant/V77 had roll-downs (1964, 4.5 hours).

Posted by: Unknown | September 27, 2012 12:21 PM    Report this comment

It does seem that a roll-down window would be an improvement over the flip-open window in my 182. I just spent a nervous 15 minutes doing a photo shoot through the slot, trying to avoid having the strut and wheel in the picture, camera strap around my wrist. Actually, what I'd prefer would be a slide-forward rear section. That should be just as safe as the flip-out type I have now, and not require any door modifications. I wonder if someone can do that and get an STC? I'll buy two for my Skylane!

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | September 27, 2012 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Paul—I am not sure this was a joke. Read “The Mitt Mirage” By Joe Klein in Time Magazine for September 24 and you will understand why. When you keep zigzagging through life it is not unthinkable that you sooner or later will advocate the development of technology enabling the passengers to open windows in flight. I am sure they have done extensive research and concluded this will indeed be attractive to a certain percentage of the electorate—probably the most conservative wing of the Republican Party and may be some undecided.

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | September 27, 2012 2:07 PM    Report this comment

I call foul on anyone who doesn't cut Mitt slack on this one. If my wife was in an airplane that had a fire I would be incoherent and unreasonable for a while. Give him a break.
(ps: I'm voting for the other guy)

Posted by: D. M. Perry | September 27, 2012 2:38 PM    Report this comment

It never ceases to astonish me how pilots, who in theory should be relatively intelligent, continue to support the rightwing fascist bastards against their own self interest.

Posted by: Karl Schneider | September 27, 2012 3:19 PM    Report this comment

Some aircraft in fact do have openable windows. but you can't do it in flight. The FAA requires it on some where the direct vision might be obscured by a crazed windscreen.
I got a tee-hee out of imagining the bill that Boeing would submit for putting roll down windows on Air Froce One after the elections.

Posted by: Dave Lamb | September 27, 2012 4:01 PM    Report this comment

Ok Karl you got me. Do you want to put roll down windows on the right wings of fascist (new aircraft to me)? We know all aircraft are bastards as they do not have parents.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 28, 2012 6:04 AM    Report this comment

Karl, my own self-interest takes a back seat when I realize it is selfish and conflicts with reason and logic.

Posted by: mach37 | September 28, 2012 3:40 PM    Report this comment

We used our Cessna 180 for skydiving...we didn't jump out of the open windows...the right side door was modified to open up towards the wing...and out we went--GER-ROMNEY-MO! A direct landing on the White House lawn! Does AvWeb consider the comment by Karl Schneider civil?

Posted by: Barbara Field | September 28, 2012 4:44 PM    Report this comment

We used our Cessna 180 for skydiving...we didn't jump out of the open windows...the right side door was modified to open up towards the wing...and out we went--GER-ROMNEY-MO! A direct landing on the White House lawn! Does AvWeb consider the comment by Karl Schneider civil?

Posted by: Barbara Field | September 28, 2012 4:45 PM    Report this comment

Not sure which is worse, a candidate who tells lame jokes or biased reporters who have to later "clarify" their reporting of the incident.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 28, 2012 7:16 PM    Report this comment

This may be of interest regarding opening of windows. In Viet Nam 1971 flying C-130's we were hauling a load of pigs to some village. Of course there was an awful smell coming from the back mostly from urine. So we thought it would be a good idea to descent to 10,000 ft and open the ramp and door (we were feet wet buy now meaning over the ocean not what you might think). It seemed to help but not as much as we had hoped. It occurred to us that we could air drop the pigs which would solve the problem as least until the unlikely chance we had to explain why they were no longer on board. Not wanting to give up on the mission and feeling a little like St Nick bringing gifts we decided to open the cockpit swing windows. They face to the side and slightly to the on coming air flow. What happened next caught us completely unprepared. Since the airflow must curve as it flows from the windshield to the side windows it creates a low pressure area like the top of a wing. Air heavy with moisture (pig urine) rushed from the back to the cockpit and out the windows completely soaking us. After landing seeing all the urine on the deck of the cargo compartment we asked the fire department to hose out the evidence.

Posted by: gary schwarzrock | October 11, 2012 9:31 PM    Report this comment

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