Modern aircraft tend to have quite reasonable cockpit visibility. But throughout history there were some that had literally no visibility directly forward.

The best known example is probably Ryan Spirit of St. Louis:

Spirit of St. Louis cockpit closeup

but there were others like Supermarine S6. Granted, they were all special purpose planes. But still, how did the pilot align with the intended runway and ensure the runway is clear? There was no ILS to help him, so it still had to be done visually. And how did he avoid obstacles and other aircraft?

  • $\begingroup$ Really silly: Can't conceive how pilot can see and avoid!? - But it (Ryan Spirit of St. Louis) set historical record :-) $\endgroup$
    – menjaraz
    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ @menjaraz either I do not understand your comment, or you have missed the 'no forward visibility' part. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Jul 24, 2014 at 6:54
  • $\begingroup$ @federico: Indeed, it's about a partial visibility. Maybe I should phrase it: Can't conceive how pilot can see and avoid properly without appropriate forward visibility!? I think of the case of some low obstacle (e.g trees) in the landing phase. $\endgroup$
    – menjaraz
    Jul 24, 2014 at 7:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Federico Just FYI, URLs are allowed to omit the protocol (in other words, start at the //). That resolves to HTTP when the document containing the link is requested over HTTP, and to HTTPS when the original request is HTTPS. Thus not incurring any HTTPS penalties for those who browse over HTTP, but providing the HTTPS benefits for those who browse over HTTPS. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 4, 2016 at 20:05

1 Answer 1


You don't need a panoramic view to land, and in Lindbergh's time there was no other traffic to avoid. Navigation is easy enough through side windows (in many modern airplanes you can't see the ground out the front unless the nose is pointed down) and you can just yaw the plane left and right for the times you do want to line up with something. Airfields 100 years ago were quite literally fields, so you didn't need to be all that precise about it. Lindbergh had a periscope and was used to flying mail planes with the front seat occupied with the bag, so it wasn't anything new.

Even today, tail draggers have basically zero forward visibility on the ground so they taxi by watching the edge of the pavement with the occasional sharp s-turn to check ahead.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I missed the then low intensity traffic point. $\endgroup$
    – menjaraz
    Jul 24, 2014 at 7:30
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The preferred landing technique for a Pitts (which has essentially zero forward visibility when slow for landing) is to fly downwind/base/final as one big arc. You're constantly looking out the left side at the runway (assuming left traffic) until on short short final. At that point you know the runway is clear and if you can't see it, it must be right in front of you. $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2014 at 15:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Landing is no big problem. You memorize landmarks left and right to the intended landing direction and look sideways anyway to get a good idea when to flare. No big deal. Formation flying or a pylon race are quite different, however. There the restricted view will be a big handicap. $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2014 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DanPichelman: The same basic technique was used to land the F4U Corsair on a carrier. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2014 at 18:10

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