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What Are Airplane Windows Made of?

We don’t tend to think much about airplane windows, and when we do, it’s often for the wrong reason. If you aren’t a pilot or airline industry insider, you can hear all sorts of horror stories about windows cracking, but surely they’re stronger than that, right?

Well, thankfully, yes – airplane windows aren’t made from your run of the mill glass. Instead, they are constructed from special polymers and plastic. What’s more, just one layer won’t do, so several layers of windowed protection are designed.

Looking out of airplane window
Editorial Team Looking out of airplane window

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how airplane windows work, what they are made of, and why.

First and foremost, let’s get something out of the way from the outset – airplane windows are not made from glass. Windows made from glass would mean a one-stop flight to Shattersville and Distasterburg. 

Glass simply does not have the kind of structural integrity and resistance to the extreme PSI placed upon it at such altitudes for it to be a viable option.

How Airplane Windows Work

So, how exactly do airplane windows work? There are several layers, each of which is responsible for protecting the plane in its own way.

airplane window
Editorial Team airplane window exploded view

It is also important to realize that airplanes actually come with two windows for the price of one. On the one hand, there’s the cabin window with which you can interact, and which on some airlines can tint to protect you from sunlight and heat.

On the other hand there is also a flight deck window beyond your own. As you might imagine, this window is far stronger than the one with which you can interact. Moreover, it also has far more constituent parts.

There are two different inner layers, each of which is designed to reinforce the window. The last thing you want is any cracks or structural weakness. One of the rules of airplanes is having backups upon backups upon backups, and this is another example of that at work.

In addition to these structural reinforcements, the flight deck layer of your airplane’s windows also have an anti-fog system. These are in place to, what else, get rid of the fog that can collect on the outside of the window panes otherwise.

When flying at such an altitude and especially in wet or otherwise adverse conditions, fog and similar conditions are understandable. If you are going to fly into areas such as London or Dublin, there is going to be fog.

However, with the power of these anti-fog coatings, your airplane’s window exteriors, at least, can remain clear.

The same holds true for the anti-ice coatings that they have as well.

If you have ever flown anywhere that’s cold, you know all too well that the windows can start to get fogged up with cold in a hurry. You might hate for this to happen. After all, it’s a lovely white view outside.

Airbus A350 cockpit windows
Bernd Sieker | flickr Airbus A350 cockpit windows

However, you would hate even more for this to happen to the pilots’ windshield windows, which is why all of the windows on the aircraft feature an added layer of anti-ice material.

In addition, ice makes a plane heavier, which is obviously not something you want when trying to maintain altitude. These anti-ice layers are, thus, essential for making sure that your plane remains light and in good condition.

What They Are Made of

As mentioned above, airplane windows make use of a multilayered design. What is important to note about airplane windows is that there is a big difference between what you experience on your end and what’s exposed to the elements outside.

By now, it is fair to say that airplane windows are made of a special kind of stretched acrylic. This substance can be incredibly durable, making it an ideal choice for an airplane window.

airplane window close up
Editorial Team airplane window close up

Why it Matters

The most obvious reason why these structural choices matter is that they reinforce the structural integrity while it is in flight. By having several series of interlocking windows, the chances of something breaking with catastrophic results are greatly reduced.

Then, there is the fact that this structure helps add to the comfort of your flight in ways that you might take for granted. The technology behind the tinting is relatively new.

Another interesting development is in the shape of the window. In the past, square windows used to crack which is why all airplanes have round windows these days.

What’s up with the Little Hole?

If you have ever been on a plane before, you have probably wondered what on earth the little hole through your airplane window is all about. Is it something you should be concerned about? Certainly not – it’s part of the design, and an important one at that.

Airplane window hole and ice ring cropped
Chris Waits | flickr Airplane window hole and ice ring cropped

When planes take off, there is a tremendous amount of pressure. When they are in the air, that pressure continues.

What’s more, there is a lot of pressure within the cabin to make sure that things remain at a hospitable pressure for passengers. This is where the little hole comes in. It allows for the air pressure onboard to remain relatively constant.

One of the most important things to recognize about airplane windows is that they, like many elements of airplane design, are designed with the same idea in mind – redundancy.

If you have one design feature in charge of a given feature, your craft is vulnerable. After all, if that feature fails, you are left without it, and thus your craft is vulnerable.

hole in the window
Editorial Team hole in the window

Take air pressure, for example. There are features onboard the craft that are responsible for making sure that the air pressure remains constant.

Needless to say, you don’t want a single system failing leading to fluctuations in air pressure.

However, with multiple means of controlling the air pressure, things are a lot safer.

This is the reason why the little hole, known informally as the “bleed hole,” is employed in the aircraft windows. 

It acts as a fail safe measure to make sure that the air pressure within your cabin remains constant.

By allowing the air to pass through the window and the different layers that make up your window pane remain structurally sound, airlines ensure your comfort and safety from the start to the finish of the flight.

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