Aircraft face a number of challenges, ranging from operating at very high speeds to withstanding stark differences in pressure and temperature. With this in mind, the structure of an aircraft is designed to ensure not only the safety of its passengers, but it's aircrew under these varying conditions. Thus, all components of an aircraft undergo strict testing, including aircraft fuselages, engines, seats, circuit breakers, and even the windshields. In this blog, we will discuss flight deck windshields in an aircraft, their importance, and features.
More than providing the pilots with a visual of the direction they are heading, they are also one of the only structures in the aircraft protecting the aircrew from subzero temperatures, a lack of oxygen, and other various dangers. Moreover, they are subject to a number of hazards such as bird collisions, flying debris, differences in pressure and temperature, lightning strikes, harsh contaminants, and even abrasions caused by rust, snow, or rain erosion.
For this reason, windshields contain a high impact threshold and are equipped with resistance properties. Unlike passenger cabin windows, flight deck windshields are composed of a laminated structure made of multiple layers of glass or a stretched acrylic material. This combination of materials is designed to be very strong and lightweight to benefit power distribution not only in terms of aerodynamics, but fuel efficiency. The outer layer of this laminate structure is known as the face ply. The face ply is often damaged due to outside stressors, bond failures and deterioration within the various layers, and even electrical faults in the anti-icing coatings. Such damages are the primary causes for the removal and replacement of front windshields.
As mentioned previously, damage to the anti-icing coating can lead to the replacement and removal of the windshield, but more than that, deterioration here can cause a lot of problems for the pilot. The anti-icing system is important for two reasons: defogging and deicing. Defogging is used to prevent the build up of condensation on the inner layer of the windshield while deicing prevents ice from forming on the outside. In either scenario, this can be a detriment to the pilot’s ability to see outside the aircraft.
Aircraft windshields are also subject to an aerospace standard when it comes to the range of windscreen thickness. Whether it’s for a short, medium, or long-haul aircraft, the thickness remains the same, usually varying anywhere from under an inch to 1.2 inches. Such construction is important for maintaining the uniformity of the various layers of glass or polycarbonate plastics. Between the layers, a thinner layer of a soft material such as polyvinyl butyral (PVB) is inserted to provide the windshield with thermal stress relief. The standard thickness for the hard plastics falls around 0.4 inches to 0.5 inches, while the softer inner layer is about 0.050 inches thick.
Like other parts of the aircraft, windshields undergo strict testing to ensure they are prepared for flight. One such test is a bird strike test. While it may not seem like a major concern, bird strikes are a serious problem for aviation. Additionally, there is pressure and temperature control testing, as well as an assessment of the chemical resistance of a windshield.
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