Cleaning Airplane (and Helicopter) Windows

by Philip Greenspun in February 2006

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Airplane windows and helicopter bubbles are just like the windows in your house... except that they scratch 100 times as easily and cost 100 times as much. I wish that students would ask "How do I clean an airplane window?" or "How do I clean a helicopter bubble?" but instead they invariably grab a dry paper towel, one of the most abrasive devices on the planet, and rub the grit into the $5,000 bubble or $1,000 window.

Glass is heavy. Airplanes need to be light. Thus, airplane windows are made of acrylic, popularly known as Plexiglas or "plastic." Plastic scratches much more easily than glass, which is why new airplane owners and renter pilots need to be educated.

Here are the steps:

  1. Pour at least an entire bucket of water over the canopy, bubble, or window to remove surface grit. Alternatively, hose off the grit.
  2. Wipe lightly with 100-percent cotton cloth to dry and remove lightly attached dirt. Use up-down/left-right motions of the cloth, never circular motions, which create scratches that generate a lot of glare.
  3. Spray with Plexus
  4. Wipe with a dry 100-percent cotton cloth, again being careful not to make circular motions
  5. Fly away without getting the last few small spots; you'll do more damage to the Plexiglas than it is worth to have a perfectly clean helicopter bubble, airplane canopy, or side window
Some FBOs have specially formulated disposable paper wipes for cleaning Plexiglas and these are probably okay, but cotton is better.

Text and photos Copyright 1994-2006 Philip Greenspun.