Breather hole in an airplane window. Photo Credit: interestingengineering.com
As many of you are aware, we are in the transitioning phase of this website as we close out TeamUV.org and transition to EngineeringAFuture.com over the next two months, so this will be Ketton’s last Well Read post here at Team UV, but not to fear, there are still two months of posts left here and the same types of articles will be carried over onto EAF (Engineering A Future), so without further ado, please enjoy the following:
Before we go any further into the purpose of the “breather hole”, we will first check out how a window in a pressurized passenger cabin is set up. As shown in the Boeing 737 maintenance manual (the most widely produced jet airliner in aviation history), the window structure consists of three layers of acrylic – a tough, transparent and flexible resin – although only two of them have an actual structural function.
Airplane window configuration. Photo Credit: interestingengineering.com
These structural layers are the intermediate and outer ones – while the inner layer (called “scratch pane”) only serves as a buffer between the passengers and the structure of the window itself. These layers prevent the cabin from reaching the external pressures that, depending on altitude, are too low for the vital functions of the human body.
Basically, the primary structural window guarantees the cabin remains at a constant pressure equivalent to an altitude of 7,000 feet, which is still quite acceptable for the body. However, in most cases, only the last acrylic layer is responsible for ensuring such conditions; the intermediate layer is just there for extra safety. Having said that, let us get back to the mysterious little hole.
As can be noted in the diagram shown above, the breather hole is located in the middle layer of the window. This little puncture acts as a bleed valve ensuring that the pressure between the last two layers and the cabin always remains the same. This is necessary as a way of preserving the middle layer (the extra safety one) so it is only exposed to severe pressure differences in cases of emergency – that is, if the last layer the window is fractured in some way.
The breather hole also serves to prevent freezing and fogging between the outer layers of the window. Of course, that doesn’t always work since it is not rare to find photographs showing some frost on the windows.