Boeing Looking at Vibrating Cockpit Seat to Alert Pilots

boeing vibrating seat

Artist Renderings, US Patent Office

The cockpit of a commercial airplane has a variety of warning systems to help keep pilots out of unsafe situations. In many circumstances, visual and audible indicators will notify a pilot when he needs to take immediate action. Boeing is considering a new method: vibrating the pilot's seat assembly.

Throughout a flight, pilots do numerous tasks that might not require instant action, but are needed to complete a flight. During longer flights, pilots might get distracted and miss warning indicators that advise them if an action is required, the seat inventors say.

Pilots are also prone to getting sleepy during extended flights. A recent survey conducted for the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK found that out of 389 pilots, 48% said they fell asleep "once" or "rarely" and 2% indicated they fall asleep "often."

Recently, a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Boeing 737 pilot fell asleep mid-flight while the co-pilot was out of the cockpit. In November 2010 an Air India Boeing 737 crashed killing 158 people, which was blamed on a sleep-deprived pilot.

Boeing is trying to determine if an alert system that uses more than lights and sound could be more effective in keeping fatigued pilots awake during flight. Many aircraft are already designed to shake the control column if a stall is imminent. But with the new seat a pilot would actually feel a vibration thanks to a module mounted under his or her seat.

The Tactile Pilot Alert system patent filed by Boeing, and co-authored by chief pilot Frank Santoni, states the vibrating seat would comprise of, "a tactile module that may be mountable to a seat assembly and which may include a vibrating unit and/or a probing unit."

Presently, Boeing is not giving details on how the system might be used on future planes. "We're studying the concept, but there are no plans to implement the technology right now," Doug Alder Jr. with Boeing Communications told AOL Travel News.
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