Science: Astronomy
AstronoPlane   (+33, -8)  [vote for, against]
A high-flying airplane with windows in the top.

As the sun sets, the jet lifts from the runway and climbs for altitude. The interior lights change to dim red while the passengers are chewing gum furiously, popping their ears, and struggling into warm clothing. As the pressure drops, they bundle into their seats, strap on oxygen masks, and recline. The stewards check the masks, then jack up the seats. The passengers are lifted until each face rises into an hemispherical glass dome. There before them are all the stars, steady and pure in the clear, black sky.

The pilots keep the plane flying slow to reduce turbulence and noise. Some passengers climb down and move to the binoculars and telescopes aimed through flat ports in the roof of the plane. Most stay under their individual domes, derived from the navigator's dome on a DC-3, made of clearest safety glass. The air is clear at that high altitude, thin and smooth. The plane is far from city lights, over water or wilderness.

The reduced interior pressure allows thin glass in the domes, the low temperature and humidity prevent fogging. The masks are monitored to prevent accidents, and the stewards are trained for emergencies. The flight is reminiscent of early space flight and air travel, with great rewards for some risk.

The fuel is running low, the plane has climbed as high as it can go. The pilots push the throttles forward, the plane picks up speed in a shallow dive. The plane pulls up and goes ballistic in a high, slow parabola. The passengers are weightless, floating with their heads in the stars.

The plane descends into darkness, the weight crushing back, the stars left behind. The pressure squeezes, the heat suffocates, the dull world awaits.
-- baconbrain, Jun 20 2006

Bring money.
Technical explanation is light but sufficient, [BJS]. [methinksnot, Jun 21 2006]

Parabolic Flight http://www.incredib...paraboladiagram.jpg
[BJS, Jun 21 2006]

Total eclipse of sun as seen from plane at 27 000ft http://www.liveleak...ew?i=04a_1217608584
The total eclipse of the Sun, seen over the Canadian Arctic, August 1, 2008. [baconbrain, Aug 05 2008]

NASA has one
Actually, this is just the latest one. At least one other has preceded this one. [Vernon, Jun 02 2011]

plot zero zero zero nine or eight
[pashute, Nov 04 2014]

Sign me up.
-- normzone, Jun 20 2006

me, too +
-- xandram, Jun 20 2006

We still get peanuts and in-flight movies, right?
-- methinksnot, Jun 20 2006

I don't think there would be a movie if you are looking at the stars, there might be some music though.
-- BJS, Jun 20 2006

It wasn't a serious question. Just an observation designed to make you think about the crassness of human thought and how it almost always defaults to: How can I find something to dull/change the current experience so I don't have to live through it (no matter how beautiful or educational or whatever).
-- methinksnot, Jun 20 2006

//You need to correct the section about weightlessness.// How so?

[methinksnot], that's an insightful observation.
-- baconbrain, Jun 20 2006

We weren't always so crass.

I can't wait for this! But I wonder what kind of structural advancements would have to be made to accomodate the very extreme pressure differential.
-- daseva, Jun 20 2006

GumBob, the pressure would be relatively the same on both the outside and the inside, so it wouldn't require major structural advancements.
-- BJS, Jun 20 2006

Well, you are gonna have to have some pressure, right? I just don't want the bubbles cracking, or little dudes out there messing with the wires.
-- daseva, Jun 20 2006

There will be pressure inside the plane, but it will be less than in normal airliners. I figure to balance passenger comfort versus window thickness. The differential should be about that of normal operations.

BJS, once the plane is going up, the pilots push it a little forward again. Going ballistic in a parabola IS weightless.
-- baconbrain, Jun 21 2006

That's not what you said in the idea.

"Weightless Flight (also known as Parabolic Flight) is achieved aboard ZERO-G’s Boeing 727 aircraft named G-FORCE ONE. Weightlessness is achieved by flying G-FORCE ONE through a parabolic flight maneuver. Specially trained pilots fly these maneuvers between approximately 24,000 and 34,000 feet altitude. Each parabola takes 10 miles of airspace to perform and lasts approximately one minute from start to finish.

Parabolic Flight Manuever for Zero Gravity Flights

The maneuver is somewhat like a roller coaster in that the plane is initially pulled up to approximately 45 degrees (nose high). Next the plane is "pushed over" the top to begin the zero-gravity segment of the parabolas. For the next 25 - 30 seconds everything in the plane is weightless. At approximately 30 degrees (nose low) a gentle pull-out is started which allows the Flyers to stabilize on the aircraft floor. Finally, the g-force is increased smoothly to about 1.8 g's until the aircraft reaches a flight altitude of 24,000 feet. The maneuver is then repeated.

Experience WeightlessnessThe ultimate thrill!

The weightlessness experienced by everyone inside the airplane is actually equivalent to the type of free fall you experience when sky diving. In this case however, the body of the aircraft surrounds you and protects you from the on-rushing wind. At the end of the free fall period, the aircraft also scoops you up and carries you back up to the top of the arc to begin the free fall process again.

In addition to achieving zero-g or weightlessness, G-FORCE ONE can also fly a parabola designed to offer Lunar (1/6th) or Martian (1/3rd) gravity. These reduced gravity environments are created with a modified parabola that is not quite as steep as zero gravity parabola."
-- BJS, Jun 21 2006

{BJS] You are saying the same thing as {BB}, but you sound like a marketing brochure, and he sounds like a NASA press release.

Oh, and the common name for NASA's micro gravity trainer, is the "vomit comet", not "G-FORCE-ONE".
-- Galbinus_Caeli, Jun 21 2006

I don't sound like a marketing brochure.

And the common name for NASA's micro gravity trainer is not the correct one.
-- BJS, Jun 22 2006

You can't just swiss-cheese the skin of an airplane willy-nilly and expect it to hold itself together, especially along the top surface. There would need to be some significant hoops surrounding the portals to take the stresses, which would add to the wall thickness and require a double-pane.

You also need to maintain some positive pressure just to keep the cabin livable in high atmosphere conditions. It helps to keep the skin stresses tensile, which is a good thing.

Furthermore, to survive the vomit ride the plane would need to be built quite durably, and so the structure would need to be beefier than the average jet, especially as it ascends and decends rapidly through changing pressures and temperatures. I'm afraid you're stuck with at least 2 panes of glass, one of them being allowed to swell in size.
-- RayfordSteele, Jun 23 2006

I wasn't planning to build the plane myself. I assume an aircraft designer could build a top with windows that are safe and secure.

I do assume that the plane will operate with some pressure inside. I think that the best viewing would be had if the windows were as thin as is consistent with safety. I know that I would be willing to dress warmly and wear a mask to get a better view. So the pressure could be reduced.

The viewing flight might well be accomplished in a standard airliner. If new windows had just been installed, but only half the seats had, I'd pay to take a ride. The pilot could simply make high-banked turns while I looked out the window while kneeling on the floor.

The mechanics and engineering of this are truly trivial. They can be safely accomplished by an aircraft modification firm. The trade-offs are between comfort and clarity. I would suffer some discomfort to get a better view, but I would not want to explode at thirty thousand feet.

As far as the parabolic flight is concerned, I deliberately described one simple arc at the end of the ride. Not a vomit ride, nothing violent. I do not see that reinforcement will be needed for that, beyond the standard safety margins.

As for parabolic flight itself, BJS, I know bloody well how it works. I have flown Whiffer Dinkles in a Cessna--not recommended, BTW. Once again you have mis-understood something and set out to prove everyone else wrong. Any pilot would have taken the description as an instruction, and given a lovely weightless ride.

I was writing in a descriptive/poetic fashion, and did not cover all the mechanics of the technology. I did get the idea across, I think. Thank you to all who commented and croissanted.
-- baconbrain, Jun 24 2006

Okay, I belive that you know how it works, I just think you should explain it little better.
-- BJS, Jun 24 2006

I think I'll wait for the comfortable ride. The one you describe so "poetically" doesn't tempt me at all!!
-- wowmom, Oct 13 2006

Air-sickness bags will be supplied, just like on any other commercial flight. If full zero-G proves to be uncomfortable, the pilots can modify the parabolic arc to produce any fractional-G desired.

No one will be forced to ride the plane. If someone doesn't like it, they can stay home.
-- baconbrain, Oct 15 2006

Who are you to say that we are too young to know what we are doing? From what you said to us it seems as if we are more mature then you. And for my opinion on this "invention" I don't think that it will work, it sounds like you created it from a fairytale. Have fun with that...
-- KaileeBecky5, Apr 26 2007

Tsk. Children today. MIddle-aged before they can walk.
-- MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 26 2007

as i understand it, the weightless portion of the VC trajectory starts on the way up, and continues through the arc. kinda like a bullet might feel on the moon the instant it stopped accelerating out of a rifle (if fired up at 45 degrees).

anyway, i'm always up for some stargazing, and if i can do it weightless then all the better.

as for the aircraft structure: who cares? it's just an engineering problem. +
-- TIB, Apr 30 2007

If you just want the clear view of the sky and aren't bothered about the vomiting bit, you could do it more cheaply with a helium (or, sotto voce, a hydrogen) balloon. There are various ways you could get away from the normal arrangement with the passengers directly under the gas bag.
-- Cosh i Pi, Apr 30 2007

//as i understand it, the weightless portion of the VC trajectory starts on the way up, and continues through the arc. kinda like a bullet might feel on the moon the instant it stopped accelerating out of a rifle (if fired up at 45 degrees).//

Exactly, thank you. Most folks think the plane has to be going downward to provide zero-G, but that ain't so. It could be going straight up, as long as it was slowing down in the right way.

A baseball is feeling zero-G all the time it is in the air, except for the air drag. During a parabolic arc, the engines on the plane overcome its air drag, allowing complete weightlessness.

The passengers feel weightless even while on the uphill side of their arc. They do get mashed down in their seats while the pilots are getting the plane started going uphill.

Dang, why am I even discussing this? It's as simple as jumping up into the air, but folks either understand it or they don't. I guess it's a challenge--there was a helpful graphic accompanying a news story about Stephen Hawking's zero-G flight, but it didn't show zero-G before the top of the arc. The parabolic flight link above (thanks [BJS]) puts it better than most, but still should show a wider section of zero-G.

And it's a trivial part of the idea proposed here. I do love the Halfbakery.
-- baconbrain, Apr 30 2007

yeah... always fun to mess with people's lack of intuition when it comes to gravity.

i like to tell 'em: gravity is a strange force, in that you can't feel it (you only feel resistance to it), and that the earth travels in a straight line (if it didn't we and all the oceans would slosh to one side).

dunno why most people have a problem with these ideas??
-- TIB, May 01 2007

passengers will also need pressure suits as well as masks. Jet fighter pilots wear a thin confortable type.
-- the great unknown, Jul 30 2007

This is a cool idea, and an interesting ride, though probably only worth it during a good meteor shower. I wonder if the altitude negates the light polution without as much to bounce off of.
The anno reminded me of a thousand conversations I have had with people who are not sure what is right, but are sure you are wrong.
On that note, I think you need to pressurize the plane below the death zone (~20k ft) for the people and because planes need the pressure diff for structural integrity.
-- MisterQED, Aug 05 2008

I know for a fact that astronomy flights exist in the UK (or did about 3 years ago anyway when I heard a talk on them). The hardest part was getting the flight crew to turn off ALL the lights, even the emergency exit signs. The flights went north past Scotland and up towards the arctic where you often got to see the Aurora Borealis as well as a wonderful clear view of the sky. They didn't fly that high but did go above the cloud deck. Basically all you need is cold air and absolute darkness. I never went on one myself but I am told they were fantastic.
-- mecotterill, Aug 08 2008

If plasma/LCD screens get better (maybe a 3D projection dome) then the structure can be as is and cameras on the outside can do the light transfer instead .
-- wjt, Aug 08 2008

I like it when an old idea crops up that I don't remember but which already has my vote attached. [+]
-- theleopard, Aug 08 2008

a balloon as already been mentiond, get a stratispheric resarh balloon; [ i would recomend the type designed by J P Domim, they are cheeper.], a pressure suit, a harnes, and some oxygen. fit your opticl equipment to the viser, the away you go. happy observing!!! then when your air starts to rum low, releas the harns and drift back to earh by parahute. i did remind you to take a parashute!.... did`nt i ?........sorry
-- j paul, Jun 01 2011

In the stratosphere, no-one cares if you can spell ... or not.
-- 8th of 7, Jun 01 2011

au contraire.
-- FlyingToaster, Jun 01 2011

sp. eau contraire
-- methinksnot, Jun 02 2011

sp. parahoot
-- lurch, Jun 02 2011

I would build the plane with windows wrapping around from the side to the top, for passengers who want to see the curvature of the earth and blue atmosphere as well as the stars. Engineering challenges aren't really that bad, and some zero-g fligt makes it fun. Personally I would also like to take advantage of a high altitude aircraft's powerful engines and make a steep takeoff with a vertical climb. The problem is all of this is very expensive (probably tens of thousands of dollars per ticket) so only a few people would really want to do it. And those people will probably opt for a private MiG flight or ride on a Spaceshiptwo instead.
-- DIYMatt, Jun 02 2011

//Engineering challenges aren't really that bad//

I think that my cousin's husband would disagree with that statement. It took him two years just to get the engineering correct for the bulkhead on the SOFIA aircraft. He told me that the engineering specs on that aircraft were comparable to Air Force One.
-- Klaatu, Jun 02 2011

and with a Jantex helmet you can also talk to and hear "headquarters" with a tin can voice starting and ending with the "Tshhh" sounds. You start each conversation with "Plot zero zero zero nine or eight"
-- pashute, Nov 04 2014

random, halfbakery