Bombardier Business Aircraft unveiled the centerpiece of the soon-to-be-certified Global 7000, the ultra-long-range jet’s Nuage passenger seat, on April 29 at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2018 in Los Angeles. Under development for seven years, the seat—named after the French word for "cloud"—breaks new ground in what Bombardier terms “furniture engineering,” an application of ergonomic principles to a feature of business jets.
Differences in the Nuage seat center on the way the human body adapts when seated. The most immediately apparent feature is that when the seat back is reclined, the seat pan on which the passenger sits dips down in the rear. This addresses a significant ergonomic problem with airplane seats, according to Tim Fagan, manager of industrial design—that the body is pushed forward when the seat back reclines, pushing the passenger’s back and rear away from contact with the seat.
The reason it is so difficult to sleep when seated upright is that a body’s muscles cannot relax when struggling to hold the body vertically. Tilting the back of the seat helps, but only if the body maintains maximum contact with the seat’s cushions. By dipping the pan down while the seat back reclines, the cushions can cradle the critical portion of the passenger’s body, allowing the muscles to relax more fully.
At the same time, the head must be comfortably supported, and with a fixed headrest, this isn’t always possible for people of different shapes and sizes. The solution to this problem looks simple but required much thought and testing.
The Nuage seat’s headrest tilts as well as raises and lowers, and this allows the passenger to adjust the headrest to the right angle to maximize comfort at the correct spot at the head-neck junction.
Another ergonomic challenge is making sure the seat height is optimal for people of varying heights but especially leg lengths. When seated, it is uncomfortable for the feet not to rest flat on the floor because then it is not possible to shift easily from side to side, which is normal human behavior when seated for a long time, Fagan explained. “If you’re not in contact with the floor,” he said, “then there is pressure on the back of your legs.”
It turns out that seats can be designed with the pan low enough so a short person’s feet are comfortably flat on the ground and still be ergonomically correct for a tall person. With feet on the ground, a tall person may have some space between the pan and the area of their legs behind their knees, but this is still comfortable, he said. “The seat is adaptive to fit a full range of body types.”
Bombardier engineers patented the Nuage seat’s “floating base” swivel mechanism, which eliminates traditional seat rails and keeps the center of gravity of the seat and occupant directly over the center swivel axis. One control on the forward right armrest allows the passenger to move fore and aft, sideways, and to swivel.
The control for tilting the seat back and dipping the pan—the “deep recline"—position is mounted on the inside of the right armrest. Pushing the control tilts the seat back and the pan’s rear dips at the same time using a patented “tilt link” system. To straighten the seat back and undip the pan, the passenger pushes the control button and leans forward. Another button next to the tilt control is used to actuate the footrest.
The Nuage seats that Bombardier demonstrated at the Milken conference are flying in “Architect”—the fourth flight-test Global 7000 (FTV 4) with a production interior that was first shown to select visitors at NBAA 2017 in Las Vegas.
Premier leathers cover the Nuage demo seats, which are lighter than traditional seats, Fagan said, although he couldn’t reveal exact numbers. “We carved away some of the volume,” he said, describing the sculpted look of the seats, and designers took advantage of the seat’s curves, “which gave us an opportunity for better control of the upholstery’s tight stitch lines.” The back of the seat is covered with a hard shell. The side of the seat facing the center of the airplane has a flip-open cover with storage for tablet computers, books, and magazines.
For taller customers, an optional deeper seat pan is available, and this pulls out from the seat so it can be adjusted for maximum comfort. Global 7000 buyers will be able to select different shapes for armrests and headrests and varying types of upholstery and stitch patterns. The Nuage design is also applied to divans in the Global 7000, and these will feature a midway recline with some seat pan dip.
The design process of the Nuage seats started early in the Global 7000 development with a design brief, Fagan said, followed by discussing concepts with customers then creating plywood mockups of greater maturity and working with suppliers to produce components that meet the design goals and are certifiable and produceable. The seats are entirely a Bombardier design, with components made by suppliers that the company chose not to identify.
Having solved the ride comfort and noise challenges in business jet design, now seat comfort is becoming more important for buyers, according to Brad Nolen, vice president of marketing for Bombardier Business Aircraft. “The geometry and changes [to the Nuage seat] are fundamentally different.”