The Concorde was well-known as a supersonic passenger aircraft that operated from the mid 1970’s to the early 2000’s. The aircraft cut flight times in half and provided luxurious accommodations (such as caviar and Cuban cigars). In its prime, the Concorde was a symbol of national pride for co-creators British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale France and technological innovation. Multiple issues involving high operating costs, environmental concerns, and safety led to the retirement of the aircraft. The Concorde is often referred to as “one of the most innovative aircraft ever built”, what made this aircraft stand apart from the rest?
Interest for supersonic flight began in the early 1950’s in Europe. Research determined that triangle shaped (delta) wings were the answer. The core difficulty that remained was high angle (high nose) take-off and landing, requiring low speed maneuverability and long landing gear. The airframe was subjected to intense heat during supersonic flight, which caused composite expansion of up to 25 cm or 10 in. The white paint used on the Concorde was specially developed to accommodate temperature changes. The Concorde was tested for over 5,000 hours before receiving passenger flight certification. The first flight of the aircraft was 1 October 1969. Twenty of the aircraft were created.
The ogival delta wings were used for the Concorde. This design allowed for high vortex lift and enabled landing at an acceptable slower speed. The design of the aircraft places the wing behind the shock-wave boundary. The ogival delta wing allows for maximum lift.
The sloped nose is a memorable feature of the Concorde. The nose shape was created to reduce drag without impeding the pilots view. The nose was adjusted downward for taxiing, landing, and take-off. A moving visor was developed to act as a windscreen when the nose was moved to a horizontal position. The material used in the nose had the ability to withstand 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit).
The aircraft had a unique braking system and undercarriage. Due to the high angle of take-off, the undercarriage needed additional strength to withstand increased stress. Pieces of the undercarriage were developed with the ability to retract. The anti-skid braking system needed to hold up to high temperatures and quickly stop the aircraft if needed (take-off speeds were over 200 miles per hour). A carbon-based brake system was developed for the Concorde, which also saved on weight.
Length: 203 feet 9 inches, 62.1 meters
Height: 37 feet 5 inches, 11.4 meters
Wingspan: 83 feet 10 inches, 25.5 meters
Empty weight: 173,482 pounds, 78,690 kilograms
Maximum takeoff weight: 408,001 pounds, 185,066 kilograms
Cruise Speed: 1,246 mph, 2,006 kmh
Range: 3,915 nautical miles
Engine quantity: 4
Engine type: Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593
The Concorde was introduced commercially for two flights. The first flight was between London and Bahrain, the second between Paris and Rio de Janeiro on 21 January 1976. A ticket for the inaugural flight cost about $450 or £356. Aircraft passengers flew at the altitude of 60,000 feet (jetliners fly at 30,000 feet on average). The aircraft could seat 100 passengers, and had a flight crew of nine. The flight crew was comprised of two pilots, one flight engineer, and six cabin crew.
The experience aboard the Concorde was unique. Passengers could see the curvature of the Earth when traveling at 60,000 feet. British Airways provided passengers with champagne, caviar, and lobster. Meals were served on china. Passengers were informed of aircraft speed by a visual display. The aircraft was popular with celebrities Mick Jagger, Elton John, Elizabeth Taylor, and many more.
The aircraft was quickly banned in the many countries due to protests over sonic booms. Before the aircraft began commercial flight, a movement was underway to block supersonic flight. Publications claimed that the sonic boom created by the aircraft would have negative effects, such as disturbing local wildlife, scaring civilians, and causing damage to buildings. Many countries prohibited sonic booms within their airspace. The airline responded by planning routes that would allow the sonic boom to occur over open water or rural areas.
Air France Accident
Throughout the majority of Concorde service, it had been considered one of the safest aircraft. That changed 25 July 2000 when Air France Flight 4590 culminated in 113 casualties. Investigations determined that the aircraft was at, or above, maximum takeoff weight. A preceding Continental Airlines DC-10 dropped a titanium alloy strip onto the runway. The titanium alloy strip made contact with the tires of the Concorde. One tire sustained damage and exploded. The tire debris struck the aircraft wing at a speed over 300 mph. The shock then ruptured a fuel tank. The fuel caught on fire, due to the damaged landing gear or excessive heat. Two of the engines briefly lost power, one engine had to be shut down due to the flames. The aircraft was traveling at speeds over 200 mph and did not have enough runway left to stop. The aircraft took off and was unable to effect necessary flight operations due to failing equipment. The aircraft then crashed into a hotel. All aboard the aircraft and four people on the ground were killed.
Following the incident, other Concorde aircraft were grounded. The aircraft would be resume commercial flight after the culmination of the accident investigation and root cause analysis. The Concorde began commercial flight on 11 September 2001. Passenger rates dropped by half after the terror attack. Commercial service on the Concorde ended 24 October 2003.
Around the world, there are twelve Concorde aircraft that can be viewed by the public. In the US, the Concorde can be seen at:
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex in New York, NY
- Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC
- Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA