Video: Pilot Shows Off A KLM Boeing 747 Cockpit Sunroof

Did you know that the 747 has a hatch in the roof above the cockpit? It looks pretty much like a  sunroof, but of course, it isn’t. In fact, it is an emergency exit designed to give the pilots another way to exit the cockpit. The 747 is not the only aircraft to have one, but it certainly is the most dramatic!

747 Roof hatch Qantas
The  747 roof hatch is sometimes used on special occasions. Here the captain marks 50th-anniversary celebrations in Sydney. Photo: Getty Images

Opening the 747 hatch

We don’t often see the hatch open up in the 747 cockpit. It is designed for use as an emergency exit, and fortunately, this does happen often. It is occasionally opened up on special occasions and has been seen flying flags, for example. A KLM pilot, however, gave us a great view recently. To mark his last flight with the 747, he filmed a great shot of himself outside the cockpit. Take a look at this Twitter post:

The hatch is an emergency exit

The hatch is present on all variants of the 747 and is an emergency exit for the cockpit crew. It is a safety requirement that all large commercial aircraft provide a secondary exit from the cockpit, and this is the chosen method for the 747. The Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 also have similar hatches.

To exit the cockpit in an emergency, the crew can climb up and out of the hatch (the KLM pilot shows how easy this is). There are inertia wire reels located near the hatch that the crew can use to rappel down the aircraft’s side to reach the ground.

747 roof hatch
747 roof hatch. Photo: Reinhold Möller via Wikimedia

The use of the hatch to escape the aircraft is rare. There is one well-documented case, though, involving a Pan American World Airways 747. The crew used the hatch to escape when terrorists boarded the aircraft on the ground in Karachi, Pakistan. It is recalled in this article in the Los Angeles Times.

Other cockpit exits

If only the 747, 787, and A350 have roof hatches, what about the exit requirement on other aircraft? This is met by having cockpit windows that can be opened. This is usually the rearmost windows on the side. The Airbus A320 family, A330, A340, and A380, as well as the Boeing 737 family, 757, 767, and 777 all have opening windows. To escape from the cockpit, there are also ropes or wire reels located near the window.

The side windows on the 737 can be opened. Photo: Joao Carlos Medau via Wikimedia

These windows usually unlatch and slide inwards to open. This can happen when the aircraft is depressurized. The opening windows serve a few other purposes as well, such as providing forward vision if the main windows are damaged (by a bird strike or volcanic ash, for example). It’s also useful for fresh air on the ground or communication with ground staff.

A380 paris display
The crew waves an Airbus flag from the A380 side window during a demonstration at the Paris Airshow in 2007. Photo: Getty Images

And if you are tempted by the idea of a real sunroof in an aircraft, take a read of our article exploring whether it will ever happen!

Have you seen the 747 cockpit hatch open? Let us know about it in the comments.