British Airways Concorde
This week sees the 50th anniversary of the maiden test flight of the BAC built prototype 002 of the Anglo-French supersonic passenger airliner known as Concorde. The version 001,le Concorde, built by Aérospatiale of Toulouse had taken to the skies a month previously.
In celebration of this rare product of entente and engineering here are some fun facts about the now retired but still legendary aircraft.
Concorde Cuff Links
1. Despite its maiden test flights which took place in 1969, Concorde did not enter commercial service for another 8 years with the first passengers boarding for destinations to Bahrain from London and for Rio via Dakar from Paris.
2. Initial development of the finalised aircraft had begun as early as 1954 and saw numerous difficulties in development largely centred around a wing configuration necessary for a supersonic aircraft substantial enough in size to carry adequate passengers for economic viability. Whilst this saw early adoption of the delta wing design, a further part of the solution involved the aircraft requiring a taller than standard front landing gear to increase the angle of the plane at take off, thereby generating greater lift to reduce take off length and to lower excessive speeds on landing.
Grounded BOAC Concorde
3. A further development of the steep angle the plane was required to adopt while at taxi, was the famous nose cone design that would be lowered to enable the pilot greater visibility while on the ground and then streamlined to the fuselage during flight.
4. Early commercial interest in the project was good with many airlines showing interest and placing orders. These began to wane however for a number of reasons. Concerns about noise levels for the supersonic aircraft restricted its use on routes that would be over large expanses of land and populated areas.
The American rival Boeing project, the 2707, was shelved after federal development funding was cut, while the Soviet equivalent, the first production Tupolev Tu-144, crashed at the 1973 Paris Air Show with lethal consequences, both diminishing confidence in the concept of Supersonic passenger aircraft.
Soviet Tupolev TU-144LL
But perhaps the greatest competition was simply that larger passenger airliners like the DC-10 and Boeing 747 were more commercially viable with equal long haul capability.
5. From initial options placed by 16 airlines, by the time of the first commercial flights, only three converted those to genuine orders to put the aircraft into service, British Airways and Air France largely operating transatlantic services and Qantas.
6. Concorde was powered by four Rolls-Royce/SNECMA Olympus 593 engines. This engine is the direct descendant of the Bristol-Siddeley Olympus, the worlds first two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine. The Olympus 593 was flight tested from Filton Airfield fitted to the underside of a Vulcan bomber.
Air France Concorde
7. Concorde had an average cruise speed of 1,320mph (Mach 2.02) with a maximum cruising altitude of 60,000 feet (18,000 m); subsonic airliners typically cruise below 44,000 feet (13,000 m). A typical take-off speed was around 250mph.
8. The fastest transatlantic airliner flight was 2 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds from take-off to touchdown from New York JFK to London Heathrow on 7 February 1996 by the British Airways G-BOAD, aided by a 175 mph (282 km/h) tailwind.
9. Concorde was retired from service in 2003. Although there was an apparent slump in air travel following the events of September 11th 2001, and the earlier crash of an Air France Concorde Flight 4590 on take off in July of 2000, the genuine likelihood is that the aircraft that had largely represented an experiment in Supersonic flight for commercial use had reached the end of the runway for its always tenuous economic viability.
Where most modern aircraft had had their flight decks substantially updated with modern computers, the lack of competition for Concorde meant there was no pressure to innovate for the future and the aircraft remained stubbornly analogue, and after 30 years of service and 50 since development began had come to represent a chapter of the jet age that came to an inevitable close.
Concorde Silk Tie