Why pilot’s cockpit on commercial planes is in upper part of fuselage?


I understand that historically pilot was sitting on top. And that radar on military planes should be pointed forward-downward and thus cannot be above the pilot(s). But in modern airliners there is so much space. And most important thing to look out for pilots is still the Earth. The Concorde even had a movable nose so the pilots could see better during takeoff, landing and taxiing.

In: 159


There were actually a number of early airplanes with a window in the floor of the cockpit. This was used both for navigation before radio navigation and satellite navigation was invented. And to see the runway during high angles of attack approaches when the engine blocked most of the view. But it was quite awkward for the pilots to be looking down and these windows were left unused.

Pilots do not actually look at the ground that much. The exception is maybe during the landing as they need to see the runway. But even then the runway is supposed to be in front, not bellow. And the cockpit have perfect visibility forward, where the airplane is actually going.

I am not quite sure where you are proposing the cockpit be installed. If you mount it under the aircraft there will be quite a bit of airplane between the pilots heads and the front. You could have the pilots lie on their stomach just like WWII bombers but that is an awkward position and limits the number of buttons they can reach. You might put the cockpit further forward so it is in the nose of the airplane. But the cockpit is quite big on modern airliners so you can not have it all the way forward in the pointy nose. You then have problems with visibility as a lot of the nose is in front of the pilots again. And there is no advantage to this unless you want to reduce the size of the instrument panel, but this is what pilots spend most of their time looking at.

As for the movable nose of the Concorde they did actually try flying with it up all the time and the pilots had no issues. They had enough visibility during takeoff and landing even with the nose up. So in the plans for an upgraded Concorde (which never materialised) the movable nose was deleted in favour of a fixed nose.

The concord had to have a movable nose because the shape of it meant visibility was exceptionally poor. At the same time you might be overestimating how bad the downward visibility is on an aircraft. While not the same, try out any commercial aircraft in a flight sim, there’s more than enough visibility to see what’s in your path (Keep in mind an aircraft also moves forwards at the same time, now just downwards). And further visibility problems are dealt with using communication, ATC makes great effort to make sure nothing crosses the path of an aircraft, ground crew communicate with ATC to ensure they’re actually clear to cross whatever section of the airfield they’re on the same way an aircraft does.

I also think you might be overestimating how much space a modern airliner has, consider [a 737](https://thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/design-airplane-interior-flat-section-illustration-vector-90990170.jpg), there’s not that much room for a cockpit to be moved downwards. Larger aircraft doesn’t have that much more room either. On top of that consider the instrument cluster, you can’t really move that out of the way either.

Pilot here. Visibility is better overall with the current configuration. Wherever you place the cockpit, you are going to have trade-offs on what you can see and how well. You can see the ground well enough for taxi, take-offs and landings with the cockpit up front and on top. That also usually gives each pilot a good view of the wing and engines on their side. Most importantly, that position gives you the best point of view to look for other aircraft when flying. Finally, seeing the ground isn’t that important for most of the flight. Navigation is mostly by GPS and instruments which work just fine without a view of the surface. For older aircraft that relied on a navigator with a map, they often had either a window on the bottom for them to look out of or the whole front of the cockpit was mostly plexiglass (think WW2 bomber). The Concorde design had poor visibility when the nose was in position for high speed flight, so they made it adjustable for landings. That was a design decision so it could go supersonic. That’s an expensive fix for a problem other aircraft don’t have.

On smaller planes like the B737 and A320, there’s not much room below the cockpit. On a B747, it designed with the cockpit high enough so the nose can open to load really long things. I watched a Singapore freighter load a 80′ Christmas tree on B747-400f through the nose. The A380 has the cockpit several feet lower than the upper deck.

It all depends on the design of the plane.