Concorde Aircraft History: The long, strange, luxurious saga of flying faster than the speed of sound.
A technological masterpiece built-in collaboration by France & Britain, the delta-wing Concorde, made its first flight on March 2, 1969. The Concorde had a maximum cruising speed of 2,179 km (1,354 miles) per hour, or Mach 2.04 (more than twice the speed of sound). This allowed the aircraft to reduce the flight time between London and New York to about three hours.
However, the aircraft’s noise and operating expenses limited its service. Financial losses led both airlines to cut routes, eventually leaving New York City as the only regular destination. Concorde operations were finally ceased by Air France in May 2003 and by British Airways in October 2003. Only 14 of the aircraft actually went into service.
FIRST FLIGHT FACTS
The Concorde made its first transatlantic crossing on September 26, 1973, and it inaugurated the world’s first scheduled supersonic passenger service on January 21, 1976. British Airways initially flying the aircraft from London to Bahrain. And, Air France began flying it from Paris to Rio de Janeiro.
Both of the airlines added regular service to Washington, D.C., in May 1976 and to New York City in November 1977. Other routes were added temporarily or seasonally, and the Concorde was flown on chartered flights to destinations all over the world.
THE SAGA OF THE KING OF THE SUPERSONIC ERA
What is the Concorde?
The Concorde was the first major cooperative venture of European countries to design and build an aircraft. On November 29, 1962, Britain and France signed a treaty to share costs and risks in producing an SST.
British Aerospace and the French firm Aérospatiale were responsible for the airframe, while Britain’s Rolls-Royce and France’s SNECMA (Société Nationale d’Étude et de Construction de Moteurs d’Aviation) developed the jet engines.The development costs of the Concorde were so great that they could never be recovered from operations, and the aircraft was never financially profitable.
Nevertheless, it proved that European governments and manufacturers could cooperate in complex ventures. And, it then helped to ensure that Europe would remain at the technical forefront of aerospace development.
How was the Concorde developed?
The Birth of the Concorde
A secret noone knows!
On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke through. Cruising in an experimental Bell X-1 aircraft at an altitude in excess of 40,000 feet, the test pilot made history by crashing through the sound barrier and becoming the fastest man in a plane to date.
Nobody knew it at the time, since the U.S. government’s top-secret project stayed under wraps until 1948. Soon, though, the nations of the world knew supersonic air travel was possible.
Just as the 1950s gave rise to a space race, so too did it spur competition in the stratosphere.
An aim to build an airliner that could carry passengers faster than the speed of sound, effectively shrinking the globe.
How did the United Kingdom respond?
The United Kingdom mostly watched the space race from the sidelines as the USSR put satellites in orbit. And the United States rushed to catch up. The supersonic race, however, represented a theatre in which postwar Europe could reclaim some pride.
Nationalism and politics
Nationalism fuelled the ambition. “The reason it was built was largely politics,” says Bob Van Der Linden, Chairman of the Aeronautics Department of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
- The Concorde was a way for Europe to outshone the U.S., which had already tried and failed to build its own smaller SSTs in the 1950s.
- However, to the surprise, it still dominated the market for commercial planes.
British Government’s Corresspondence
“The British government wanted to split the costs with another country,” says Jonathan Glancey, author of Concorde: The Rise and Fall of The Supersonic Airliner. After unsuccessfully seeking American assistance, Britain found an ally in France.
In 1962, the two nations signed the Anglo-French Concorde agreement, ensuring cooperation on a new plane, one they hoped would finally level the aeronautical playing field in Europe’s favor.
“The Great Britain and France let politics and reasons of national pride get in the way,” Van Der Linden says. “This was a way of showing we are as good if not better than the United States than it was building an airplane for the market. “They were the pride of Great Britain and France and they wanted to show it off and had every reason to show it off.”
Emergence of unique NAME- Concorde!
Befitting its two-nation heritage, the Concorde’s name translates to “harmony” or “union” in French. The two aviation giants charged with building it, Aérospatiale (which later became Airbus) and the UK’s British Aircraft Corporation, faced an onerous challenge.“They almost had to reinvent the airplane to make it work, and they did,” Van Der Linden revealed.
That pride and the work paid off. Four months before men walked on the moon, the Concorde made its maiden flight.
In 1973, it bested the Soviet supersonic effort in Paris. And soon thereafter it finally appeared on the runway, bearing the liveries of British Airways and Air France.
Its rival would not be so fortunate. The Soviet-built TU-144, like its British/French competitor, sought to usher in a new era of supersonic passenger travel.
But the Soviet plane swerved suddenly during ascent and dropped like a stone onto the nearby village of Goussainville, where it killed six in the plane and eight on the ground.
The Concorde Plane was one of a kind!
The speed itself wasn’t the problem. By early 1960, flying faster than the sound barrier in a military jet had gone from milestone to routine. Going that fast in an airliner crammed with 100 paying passengers, however, entailed a different kind of thinking.
Listing the unimaginable engineering aspects
- The Concorde could dart through the clouds at speeds greater than Mach 2 (1,350 mph).
- Despite the jarring kah-boom that resonated as it breached the sound barrier, inside the cabin, all was serene, quite and luxurious.
- Even as the plane seemed to violate the rules of time and common sense.
- Judging by the official time, the London to New York flight would land before it departed.
- The Irish journalist Terry Wogon gleefully remembered the Concorde allowing him to eat “breakfast at Heathrow, and breakfast again on arrival in New York.”
- Perhaps the most impressive engineering improvement was the plane’s triangular delta wings.
- These easily allowed it to navigate different angles of attack while soaring at breakneck speeds.
Featuring the best became a hobby
- The Concorde was equipped with four Rolls-Royce afterburner engines, the same kind used on fighter jets, each of which generated 38,000 pounds of thrust.
- The bird-like plane used a slanted droop-nose that lowered upon takeoff and landing, enabling pilots to see the runway.
- Revamped brake systems allowed the plane to touch down on a tarmac unscathed even if it landed at far higher speeds than its subsonic counterparts.
- Because the plane’s nose temperature could climb to 278 degrees while it flew, it was coated in a highly reflective white paint that radiated heat.
“None of these lesser technical improvements approached the revolutionary status of the thin delta wing design that made sustained supersonic flight possible,” says to Samme Chittum, author of the Last Days of Concorde.
How much was a ticket on the Concorde?
The Concorde engines guzzled 6770 gallons of fuel per hour, necessitating ticket prices that climbed into quadruple digits. To account for the price, the service was top-notch and the settings upscale.
From 1976 to 2003, the Concorde shrank the Atlantic Ocean in half, ferrying passengers from New York to London or Paris in just three and half hours.
The plane cruised higher than 50,000 feet, revealing the curvature of the Earth at a casual glance out the window.
Tickets were outrageously expensive. The average transatlantic round-trip flight cost approximately $12,000. However, living in the future, even for just a few hours, has never been cheap.
What was restricting back the growth?
In With a Boom, Out With a Whimper
Countries banned the jet from flying over their airspace because of the cacophonous sonic boom, which limited routes to those over the ocean.
*(The United States still has laws on the books barring SSTs from traversing the country, for fear of noise pollution and windows shattering below.)
The environmental movement came into full bloom in the 1970s, and protesters who resented the Concorde’s fuel-guzzling routinely greeted the plane’s arrival at airports with ire-laden protests.
The Anti-Concorde Project sprung into action almost as soon as the Concorde was ready to roll out on the runway, validating academic studies that noted the plane’s deleterious effect on the environment.
The Fandom it created
The plane spurred the kind of hype and fanfare not seen since the debut of Boeing’s brawny 747. It became the vessel of choice for showbiz stars like English late-night host David Frost. For others, flying on the Concorde turned air travel into a bucket list item, as Samme Chittum tells:
It’s hard to overestimate both the hype and romance surrounding Concorde and travel. As much [hype] as there was, that was equal if not surpassed by what passengers actually experienced.
When they took a flight on this supersonic plane, they knew what they were doing was a first in a lifetime experience for them.
What it was like at that height seeing the curve of the Earth and knowing that moment watching it on a display in a cabin when you were traveling at supersonic speed, there was a tremendous thrill involved.
You have to be quite a dull person not to appreciate that.
“Partly because of the premium prices charged for Concorde flights, the aircraft attracted the kind of clientele – mostly senior business execs. But, only the who didn’t need entertainment,” says Jonathan Glancey.
“Passengers would, of course, chat and mingle to an extent, but many worked.”
Beneath the glamor, sex appeal, and the thrill of flying at Mach 2, however, lurked some serious problems. While 16 airlines initially placed orders for the Concorde, the plane launched right into the oil crisis of 1973 that thinned out the demand for a thirsty supersonic plan. In total, only 20 Concordes were built, and six of them remained prototypes.
The Concorde Jet makes its final flight
The supersonic Concorde jet makes its last commercial passenger flight, traveling at twice the speed of sound from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport on October 24, 2003.
The horrible disaster
The British Airways jet carried 100 passengers, including actress Joan Collins, model Christie Brinkley and an Ohio couple who reportedly paid $60,000 on eBay for two tickets (a roundtrip trans-Atlantic fare typically cost about $9,000).
A large crowd of spectators greeted the plane’s arrival in London, which coincided with two other final Concorde flights from Edinburgh and the Bay of Biscay.
The accident chain began
On July 25, 2000, a Concorde Jet in route from Paris to New York City suffered engine failure shortly after takeoff.
The debris from a burst tire caused a fuel tank to rupture and burst into flames. The aircraft crashed into a small hotel and restaurant.
All 109 persons on board, including 100 passengers and 9 crew members, died; 4 people on the ground were also killed.
Why was the Concorde Jet retired?
Air France 4590 was by no means solely responsible for the Concorde’s demise. Shortly afterward, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks fostered an understandable sense of public paranoia that also cratered Wall St.’s faith in the airline industry.
- Concorde Jet maintenance costs had been climbing for years while the number of customers willing to pay exorbitant ticket prices waned.
- By 2003, Concorde manufacturer Airbus cited a litany of growing concerns, revealing it would cost British Airways alone £40m over the next several years to maintain its beleaguered fleet.
Within five months of each other, Air France and British Airways would throw in the towel on flying the Concorde Jet.
Continuing was next to impossible
The Concorde Jet could outrun any airliner. It could never withstand the economic and engineering woes that were always in close pursuit. For one thing, the cost of burning fuel at such an unprecedented rate meant ticket prices even the plane’s well-heeled clientele struggled to afford.
“The airplane usually flew with lots of empty seats, just because it was too expensive,” Van Der Linden says.
And then came the crash. In July 2000, Air France Flight 4590 crashed during takeoff, the result of a punctured tire that spewed shrapnel into a fuel tank. All 109 people onboard died in a cataclysmic fire, one that damaged the public perception of supersonic passenger jets.
“The Concorde crash was entirely preventable,” Chittum says. “The inadequate tires were not replaced with more resilient tires, even after it became obvious that they should have been following a string of documented tire blowouts during take off.”
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A Supersonic Return?
The Concorde Jet is just a museum piece now. But the dream of flying faster than sound hasn’t died. A number of players, ranging from NASA and Lockheed Martin to upstarts like Boom Supersonic, are vying to revive SSTs and make them viable again.
Today, that future has come and gone. Because of difficult economics and the physical realities of air travel beyond the speed of sound, the Concorde retired more than 15 years ago.
No supersonic airliner has risen to take is place—yet.
Although the technology is clearly proven, the challenges pervading the return of a commercial SST remain. It’s been illegal for commercial SSTs to fly over land in the United States since the Concorde Jet heyday, but lawmakers are cozying to the idea of their return if scientists can minimize the sonic boom.
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Revival of Concorde Plane is not feasible!
I wouldn’t bet my savings on it. It seems very likely, that business people with a lot of money could be flying supersonic private jets. It seems unlikely that supersonic flights will become commercially available to everyone.
With that in mind, it seems the Concorde, or anything like it really, might just remain absent from the skies forever.
| Concorde Plane
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