Airbus’s A350 XWB series is an exciting manifestation of its commitment to more efficient long-haul commercial air travel. As well as its impressive performance figures, the A350 is also a stunning aircraft to look at. However, one aspect in particular often catches the eye, namely the dark outline around its cockpit windows. But what is the purpose of this aeronautical eye mask?
What is the ‘eye mask’ for?
The A350‘s curved cockpit windows are set against its fuselage in striking fashion by the dark outline that surrounds them. At first glance, this makes the cockpit look rather similar to an eye mask. Ironically, this is an accessory that passengers on the aircraft’s longer flights make use of! Some observers have even likened the design to Johnston McCulley’s fictional character Zorro.
Virgin Atlantic operates seven examples of the stretched-fuselage A350-1000. In 2018, before the type’s introduction at the airline, it sat down with Donna Lloyd, Head of Communication Business Partners at Airbus, to discuss the innovative windscreen on its Ruby blog. Lloyd stated:
“These cockpit windows offer more than just the most futuristic, aesthetic and distinctive look. The new windshield enhances the overall aerodynamic efficiency of the aircraft. The perfectly curved shape of the nose helps the air flow hug the surface, in the least turbulent manner, thereby reducing drag.”
As we can see, the windscreen’s shape is a key factor in enabling the A350’s impressive efficiency. But what is the purpose of its dark outline? Its primary function is not a matter of aesthetics, but rather one of safety. Lloyd explains:
“The emblematic ‘Ray-Ban’ like black windshield eases the window’s maintenance and contributes to harmonising the thermal condition of this temperature-sensitive window area.”
This harmonization refers to the black paint’s ability to adjust quicker to changes in temperature. Of course, this is a process that aircraft undergo as they fly from place to place, gaining and then losing altitude. Regarding the eased maintenance, Leeham News reports that the ‘mask’ facilitates an easier process when it comes to replacing the cockpit windows.
Innovations inside the cockpit as well
The Airbus A350 is also an innovative aircraft when it comes to what it features inside its cockpit, as well as on the outside. As of December 2019, the European manufacturer has been offering airlines the option of touchscreen cockpit displays in its A350 aircraft.
The first A350 to be delivered with this high-tech optional extra went to China Eastern Airlines in December 2019. Airbus stated at the time that around 20 operators had elected to add this feature to their A350 orders. The touchscreens allow for a smoother transfer of information, which can be crucial when pilots are dealing with a high workload.
Eye mask use on another Airbus family
As it happens, the A350 XWB series is not the only Airbus family to feature a dark cockpit outline. Just under four years after the A350 entered service with Qatar Airways in January 2015, December 2018 saw TAP Portugal launch the A330neo.
Eric Zanin, the head of the A330 program, states that this aircraft also has “the same cockpit shades design [as] its larger sibling.” This shows strong cohesion between the two newest aircraft families in Airbus’s next-generation long-haul portfolio.
The eye mask is one of several similarities between the two. These parallels, and a common type rating, “allow A330 pilots to qualify on the A350 XWB in only eight days and fly on both aircraft under a single license.”
The A330neo and A350 series complement each other nicely in terms of range and capacity. As such, the pair make for a very attractive prospect for airlines looking to further integrate and streamline their long-haul operations.
What do you make of the Airbus A350’s dark cockpit outline? Have you ever flown on the aircraft? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!