Would it be possible to have a spherical cockpit that was gimbaled in jets such as fighters so the pilot was always upright. With all controls in the cockpit wirelessly communicating with the rest of the jet?

Wouldn't this be an advantage as it would be easier to aim and the pilot wouldn't get disorientated and could see anywhere by maneouvering?

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    $\begingroup$ Aside from the other reasons in the answer, a spherical cockpit simply wouldn't fit inside most fighter jets. Even going back to WWII, it was a common saying that when flying a Spitfire, you didn't "sit in it", you "wore it" (in the same way that you wore your clothes). $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Mar 4 '17 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ @alephzero Didn't Biggles say something about "flying by the seat of your pants" when he first flew, because he had to keep repositioning himself on the wicker seat while flying, and that showed him he wasn't straight-and-level ? $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Mar 4 '17 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ The redout limit is only 2-3g, so forget pulling a complete 9g loop. Also, what if the enemy is below you? Can't flip over and take a look (although dogfighting is obsolete anyway). Such a design would be quite a disadvantage even if engineering wasn't a problem. $\endgroup$
    – Roman
    Mar 4 '17 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ Unless you're intentionally flying uncoordinated for some reason (e.g. a slip) you ARE always upright. WRT the G-force acting on you, that is, which is the important thing. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Mar 4 '17 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ An interesting aside, if you have played the video game Battlefield 1, you can enable an option that allows the 3rd person plane view to remain horizontal as you described. I tried it after having the conventional setting for a couple weeks, and was amazed at how much harder it was to aviate. Obviously this is fully mental but I did notice much of what AirSick's answer mentions, even if it is only a video game. $\endgroup$
    – Prodnegel
    Mar 6 '17 at 16:34

With enough engineering (read, money), all sorts of things would be possible, but if you picture the aircraft in a hard, level turn, the g-forces would be pressing "down" relative to a conventional cockpit, but "sideways" for a cockpit that was gimbaled so the pilot was sitting upright relative to the horizon. And that would probably be a lot harder to take than the usual "down" G-forces. Resisting 9 G's pulling your hand and forearm straight down can be done with a support for your arm (side-stick controller) or a bit of a ledge at the bottom of the handgrip (side-stick or center stick), but keeping precise control of the aircraft with 9 G's pulling your hand sideways might be a lot harder.

Beyond that, the sideways G force would be pushing your head to the side, which probably ends up banging your helmet -- pretty hard sometimes -- against whatever restraint or canopy it meets.

Something that achieves some of the goals you mention is the "Virtual Reality" helmet of the F-35, where the pilot can essentially look through the airframe and "see" aircraft, targets, and whatnot even in places that he wouldn't have an actual line-of sight. That allows him to look in any direction, reacting to threats, tracking his target, and so forth. And without having to gimbal the cockpit. Although for what the F-35's cost, that might actually be cheaper!

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    $\begingroup$ "Although for what the F-35's cost, that might actually be cheaper!" I'm reasonably sure the mechanics involved in creating a gimbaled cockpit would be so big and heavy that there would be no room for the other tricks the F-35 can do. The result would probably be less of a fighter than previous generation fighter planes. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Mar 4 '17 at 14:35

How would this be 'easier'? The pilot would have no direct reference to the orientation of the aircraft. The upright pilot pulling back on the stick would expect the aircraft to pitch up. With the aircraft in practically any orientation the actual effect could be anything, including pitch down. How would you map the control inputs to the actions of the aircraft in a way that would make any sense to the pilot?

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    $\begingroup$ Could it not just be pulling up tells the computer you want to go up and it figured out what the jet needs to do? I was thinking you could be swinging the jet left to right yet your view not changing so you could aim at a target while moving in barrel rolls @airsick $\endgroup$
    – SRawes
    Mar 4 '17 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ @SRawes The problem with what you're describing there is it will make the pilots… well airsick: Having your view fixed while your inner ear is telling you you're moving is one of the things that can cause motion sickness, and since you're still moving with the fighter a gimbaled cockpit will set up exactly that kind of situation. Gimbaled cameras do make sense for, and are frequently used in, unmanned aircraft though, allowing the operator to maintain a fixed view or track a target independently of the aircraft's motion. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Mar 4 '17 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ The OP's idea is actually building a machine to make an error that is often made by beginning student pilots, who instinctively lean their body or head to keep their view of the ground level when banking the plane, instead of maintaining a fixed position relative to the plane. When flying visually, getting conflicting information from "the seat of your pants" and from your eyes is not a good stragegy. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Mar 4 '17 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 although I'd guess that professional fighter pilots are likely to be pretty immune against or at least very used to effects inducing motion sickness. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Nash
    Mar 4 '17 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ While on second thought I remember reading something about even highly experienced seamen getting seasick from time to time... $\endgroup$
    – Jan Nash
    Mar 4 '17 at 22:53

The actual biggest issue with this is that in many maneuvers the pilot does NOT want to be upright, precisely because of the G forces involved.

In a fighter jet, a sudden nose down maneuver from level flight produces negative G forces - it causes the blood to rush to the head, producing a "red out", which is very painful and potentially lethal.

To counteract that, fighter pilots roll the aircraft so that its inverted (belly up to the sky, cockpit down to the ground) and then pull back on the stick to "climb" downwards. This produces positive G forces on the pilot, forcing blood to rush into their lower limbs, triggering a "black out" - but the pilot can control this by use of their g-suit and various exercises to force blood back up the body.

So, no, you don't want the pilot to be level and upright all the time, often the pilot will deliberately make themselves not upright because its safer and more pleasant.

  • $\begingroup$ Using air pressure to squeeze the blood out of your legs and back into the rest of your body is a good thing. Using air pressure to squeeze the blood out of your head... no so much. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Mar 16 '17 at 20:49

When maneuvers are executed, usually you want the resultant force to be exerted along the axis head-foot, like weight is exerted, because you already know how to fight weight / gravity, and this about all that you are able to do easily and safely.

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In an aircraft, the aerodynamic force is (more or less) normal to the wings, even in a turn properly executed.

So it's more natural to continue to have the body normal to the aircraft floor than having it gimbaled and having a transverse force to fight against, poorly.


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