Paris Air Show 2009: New 787 Dreamliner window shade technology

If you’ve been following the development of the Boeing 787, you may have heard about the electronic shades on their extra-large passenger windows.

So far, we’ve had to imagine how effective this technology would be, knowing it would be over a year before the first revenue flight of the Dreamliner.

Luckily, we managed to find the PPG Industries booth at the Paris Air Show, and scored a demonstration of this signature feature of the 787 known as Alteos Interactive Windows.

We’ve all been on airliners with plastic shades that frequently become stuck between the interior panel above the window. Sitting in that seat can be torturous on a sunny day. Not to mention the scratches they produce on the plexiglass inner pane.

Boeing and the airlines have found that these mechanical window shades represent an added maintenance cost, and for that reason, these reliable electronic shades will be a standard feature on all Boeing 787s and possibly other airliners in the future.

Passengers will be able to control the windows through five different settings, which take about a minute and a half to go from full dark to fully bright, at least on the version we saw. While this delay is a limitation of the design, the gradual transition could be a nice feature for passengers sleeping nearby.

Mark A. Cancilla, Director of Commercial Transparencies at PPG gave us a demonstration:

Flight attendants will have some control over the cabin as well. During a movie or as the sun begins to rise after a transatlantic flight, they’ll be able to lower the brightest setting without eliminating the view for someone who would rather look outside. And catching one of those sunrises can be more entertaining than an old sitcom episode you’ve seen three times that month anyway.

For some reason, I had imagined the darkest setting wouldn’t be dark enough, but I was thrilled to discover that PPG had designed a system that would allow as little as just .1% of the light to come through. Boeing has chosen a range of 70% transparency down to .1% for the Dreamliner over the five available steps.

The technology for these windows originally came from the automotive industry. In fact, you may have it in your car. The auto-dimming rear view mirror found in newer cars is the same technology behind these shades.

But will this technology make it into the pointy-end of the airplane or will pilots continue to resort to newspapers and safety briefing cards to shade themselves from the sun? We learned a bit about the 787’s cockpit windows and the new technology they’ll be using as well.

Check out the rest of Gadling’s Paris Air Show coverage.