High Speed Civil Transport

I believe the aircraft you are thinking of is the High-Speed Civil Transport (HSCT). The HSCT was a NASA project that studied developing a next-generation supersonic commercial transport to replace the Concorde.

As you are probably aware, the Concorde nose actually swivels downward to give the pilots enough visibility to land. The mechanism to do this is rather heavy and expensive, and NASA engineers realized that this feature had to be deleted to make any future supersonic transport more cost-effective. The solution they came up with was to do away with traditional cockpit windows altogether. Instead, they developed an electro-optical system that uses cameras and infrared sensors on the outside of the aircraft to create an electronic digital image that is displayed on computer screens in the cockpit. This concept became known as the eXternal Visibility System.

Conceptual view of the eXternal Visibility System
Conceptual view of the eXternal Visibility System

This system was successfully tested on a Boeing 737 specially modified with a second cockpit incorporating the new displays. Although NASA conducted several years of basic research into new technologies needed to make the HSCT practical and economical to operate, the project was cancelled after Boeing showed little interest in developing the design. Though faster than traditional airliners, most designers have found that supersonic transports simply cannot carry enough passengers and are not fuel efficient enough to be profitable.

Nevertheless, concepts similar to the eXternal Visibility System are still under development and will likely be implemented on a production aircraft in the near future. The US Navy is particularly interested in a system that would allow a pilot to "see through" the floor of the cockpit making landings aboard an aircraft carrier safer.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 28 January 2001

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