Aerospatiale-British Aerospa ...
Aerospatiale-British Aerospa ...
Aerospatiale-British Aerospa ...
The Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde supersonic transport (SST) was one of only two
models of supersonic passenger airliners to have seen commercial service.
Concorde had a cruise speed of mach 2.04 and a cruise altitude of 60,000 feet
(17,700 metres) with a delta wing configuration and an evolution of the
afterburner equipped engines originally developed for the Avro Vulcan strategic
bomber. It is the first civil airliner to be equipped with an analogue
fly-by-wire flight control system. Commercial flights, operated by British Airways
and Air France, began on January 21, 1976, and ended on October 24, 2003, with
the last "retirement" flight on November 26, that year.
In the late 1950s the British, French, Americans, and Soviets were all interested
in developing a supersonic transport. Britain's Bristol Aeroplane Company and
France's Sud Aviation were both working on designs called the Type 233 and
Super-Caravelle, respectively. Both were largely funded by their respective
governments as a way of gaining some foothold in the aircraft market that was,
until then, dominated by the United States.
Both designs were ready to start prototype construction in the early
1960s, but the cost was so great that the companies (and governments) decided
to join forces. The development project was negotiated as an international
treaty between Britain and France rather than a commercial agreement between
companies. This included a clause, originally asked for by Britain, on
penalties for cancellation. It turned out that Britain was the country that
actually tried to get out. A draft treaty was signed on November 28, 1962. By this
time both companies had been merged into new ones and the Concorde project
was thus a part of the British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale. The
consortium secured orders for over 100 new airliners from the leading airlines
of the time. Pan Am, BOAC, and Air France were the launch customers with six
The aircraft was initially referred to in Britain as "Concord". In 1967 the
British Government announced that it would change the spelling to "Concorde"
to match the French. This created an uproar but it died down after a government
minister stated that the suffixed "e" was for excellence.
Concorde 001 took off for the first test flight from Toulouse on March 2, 1969,
and the first supersonic flight followed on October 1. As the flight program
of the first development aircraft progressed, 001 started off on a sales and
demonstration tour beginning on September 4, 1971. Concorde 002 followed suit
on June 2, 1972, with a sales tour of the Middle and Far East. Concorde 002 made
the first visit to the United States in 1973, landing at the new
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to commemorate its opening. These trips
led to an influx of orders for over 70 aircraft. However, a combination of
factors caused a sudden cascade of order cancellations, including the 1970s
oil crisis, acute financial difficulties of the partner airlines, a spectacular
crash of the competing Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, and environmental issues such as
sonic boom noise and pollution. Air France and British Airways ended up as the
only buyers. The aircraft and parts were later sold to them for the nominal
price of one British pound apiece.
The United States had cancelled its supersonic (SST) program in 1971.
Two designs had originally been submitted; the Lockheed L-2000, looking like a
scaled-up Concorde, lost out to the Boeing 2707 which originally had been
intended to be faster, carry 300 passengers, and feature a swing-wing design.
It was suggested in France and the United Kingdom that part of the American
opposition to Concorde on grounds of noise pollution was in fact orchestrated
or at least encouraged by the United States Government out of spite at not
being able to propose a viable competitor. However other countries, such as
Malaysia, also ruled out Concorde supersonic overflights due to noise issues.
Both European airlines operated demonstration and test flights to various
destinations from 1974, onwards. The testing of Concorde set records which are
still not surpassed; it undertook 5,335 flight hours in the prototype,
preproduction, and first production aircraft alone. A total of 2,000 test
hours were supersonic. This equates to approximately four times as many as
for similarly sized subsonic commercial aircraft.
Many features common in the early 21st century airliners were first used
For speed optimization:
double-delta (ogive) shaped wings
afterburning Roll-Royce/Snecma Olympus turbojets with supercruise capability
thrust-by-wire engines, ancestor of today's FADEC controlled engines
droop-nose section for good landing visibility
For weight saving and enhanced performance:
Mach 2.04 'sweet spot' for optimum fuel consumption (supersonic drag minimum,
while jet engines are more efficient at high speed)
mostly aluminium construction for low weight and relatively
conventional build full-regime autopilot and autothrottle allowing "hands off" control
of the aircraft from climb out to landing
fully electrically-controlled, analog fly-by-wire flight controls systems
multifunction flight control surfaces
high-pressure hydraulic system of 28 MPa (4,000 lbf/in) for lighter
hydraulic systems components
fully electrically controlled analog brake-by-wire system
pitch trim by shifting fuel around the fuselage for center-of-gravity
parts milled from single alloy billet reducing the part number count.
Experience in making Concorde later became the basis of the Airbus consortium
and many of these features are now standard equipment in Airbus airliners.
Snecma Moteurs, for example, got its first entry into civil engines here.
Experience with Concorde opened the way for it to establish CFM International,
with GE producing the successful CFM International 56 series engines.
The primary partners, BAC, later to become BAE Systems, and Aerospatiale,
later to become EADS, are the joint owners of Concorde's type certificate.
Responsibility for the Type Certificate transferred to Airbus with formation
of Airbus SAS.
Scheduled flights started on January 21, 1976, on the London-Bahrain and
Paris-Rio routes. The U.S. Congress had just banned Concorde landings in the
US mainly due to citizen protest over sonic booms, preventing launch on the
coveted transatlantic routes.
When the US ban was lifted in February, for over-water supersonic flight,
New York quickly followed by banning Concorde locally. Left with little choice
on the destination, AF and BA started transatlantic services to Washington
D.C. on May 24. Finally, in late 1977, the noise concerns of New York residents
gave way to the advantages of Concorde traffic and scheduled service from Paris
and London to New York's John F. Kennedy airport started on November 22, 1977.
Flights operated by BA were coded 'Speedbird 1' through 'Speedbird 4'.
The average flight time on the transatlantic routes was just under 3.5 hours.
Up to 2003, both Air France and British Airways continued to operate the
New York services daily. Additionally, Concorde flew to Barbados's Grantley
Adams International Airport during the winter holiday season and, occasionally,
to charter destinations such as Rovaniemi, Finland. On November 1, 1986, a
chartered Concorde circumnavigated the world in 31 hours and 51 minutes.
For a brief period in 1977, and again from 1979 to 1980, British Airways and
Singapore Airlines used a shared Concorde for flights between Bahrain and
Singapore Changi Airport. The aircraft, G-BOAD, was painted in Singapore Airways
livery on the port side and British Airways livery on the starboard side. The
service was discontinued after three months because of noise complaints from
the Malaysian government: it could only be reinstated when a new route,
bypassing Malaysian airspace, was designed. However, an ongoing dispute with
India prevented the Concorde from reaching supersonic speeds in Indian airspace,
so the route was eventually declared not viable. From late 1978, to November,
1982, Air France flew the Concorde on a regular basis to Mexico City's Benito
Juarez International Airport.
From 1979, to 1980, Braniff International leased two Concordes, one from
both British Airways and Air France. These were used on flights from Dallas-Fort
Worth to JFK, feeding the routes of BA and AF to London and Paris. The aircraft
were registered in both the United States and their home countries. For legal
reasons a sticker would cover up each aircraft's European registration while
it was being operated by Braniff. On DFW-JFK flights the Concordes had Braniff
flight crews, although they maintained their native airline livery. However
the flights were not profitable for Braniff and were usually less than 25%
booked which forced Braniff to end its term as the only U.S. Concorde operator.
Compared to other commercial airliners, Concorde provided an unusual passenger
experience. Both British Airways and Air France configured the passenger cabin
as a single class with around 100 seats four seats across with a central aisle.
Despite being a luxury class, most passengers were surprised to find how cramped
the cabin was. Headroom in the central aisle was barely six feet (1.8 m), and
the leather seats were unusually narrow with legroom comparable to coach class
on other planes.
In the 1990s many features which were common in the first class and business
class cabins of a long haul Boeing 747 flight such as video entertainment,
rotating or reclining seats, perambulatory areas, were completely absent from
Concorde. The only video entertainment was a plasma display at the front of the
cabin showing either the altitude, the air temperature or current speed in mach
number. With no room for overhead storage, even carry on luggage was severely
restricted. The ratio of cabin crew and lavatories per passenger was also
considerably lower than typical for a first class cabin. These privations
were offset by the much shorter flight time (typically three and a half hours
to New York from London), making the Concorde attractive to business executives.
To make up for these missing features, service on the Concorde was to be
"first class" in every sense of the word. Orders for drinks or other needs
were met instantly and served with a flourish. Meals were served using specially
designed compact Wedgwood crockery with short silver cutlery.
The unique experience of passing through the sound barrier was less dramatic
than would be expected. The moment would be announced by one of the pilots,
and could be seen on the cabin display, otherwise the slight surge in acceleration
could easily be missed.
At twice the normal cruising altitude, turbulence was rare and the view from t
he windows clearly showed the curvature of the Earth. During the supersonic
cruise, although the outside air temperature was typically -60 C, air friction
would heat the external skin at the front of the plane to around +120 C making
the windows warm to the touch and producing a noticeable temperature gradient
along the length of the cabin.
Most remarkably Concorde was the only passenger airliner able to overtake the
terminator. On certain early evening transatlantic flights departing from
Heathrow or Paris, it was possible to take off at night and catch up with the
sun from the cockpit you could see the sun rise in the west.
The Concorde was the safest airliner in the world according to passenger
deaths per distance travelled until the 25 July 2000 crash of Air France
Flight 4590 in Gonesse, France, although it should be noted that the Boeing
737 fleet acquires more passenger miles and service hours in one week than the
Concorde fleet acquired in the course of its entire service career. In any case,
all of the people on board the flight perished, as well as four people on the
ground. As the plane was on its take-off run, a metal piece punctured the tires
which then burst, puncturing the fuel tanks and leading to the loss of the
aircraft. The report of the investigation was published on 14 December 2004,
attributing the crash to foreign object damage from a titanium strip that fell
from another aircraft, a Continental Airlines DC-10 which had taken off four
minutes before; the piece had not been approved by the US
Federal Aviation Administration.
However, there was skepticism about this report which solely blamed the strip
for the accident. The French government have been extremely reluctant to share
information during the investigation, implying a cover up. The British and
former French Concorde pilots looked at several other possibilities that the
report ignored, including an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks
and loose landing gear, which hinted at the Concorde veering off course on the
runway, reducing take-off speed below the crucial minimum. Some suspect that
the cover up was an attempt to save the reputation of the Concorde, and to hide
the fact that the Concorde had veered very close to a Boeing 747 carrying French
President Jacques Chirac. Nonetheless, the crash of the Concorde was the
beginning of the end of its career, regardless of the reason for the accident.
The accident would make way for modifications to be made to Concorde. After
safety updates on sufficient aircraft, including more secure electrical controls,
Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks, and specially developed, burst-resistant tires,
both routes were re-opened on November 7, 2001.
The new-style tires would be yet another contribution from the Concorde
programme to future aircraft development.
Withdrawal from service
The first test-flight of the newly-improved Concorde flew from England to
the mid-Atlantic and back in preparation for a return to full scheduled service
that week. The flight took place on September 11, 2001, and was in the air when
the attacks on the World Trade Center were taking place.
On April 10, 2003 British Airways and Air France simultaneously announced
That they would retire the Concorde later that year. They cited low passenger
numbers following the July 25, 2000 crash, the slump in air travel following
9/11, and rising maintenance costs. Critically, many of the victims of the 9/11
attacks were business executives based within the World Trade Center buildings
who were either regular Concorde customers themselves, or authorised others to
travel on the aircraft.
That same day Sir Richard Branson offered to buy British Airways' Concordes
at their original price of 1 million each for service with his
Virgin Atlantic Airways, but was refused. He later wrote to The Economist
(23 October 2003) that his final offer was "over 5 million" and that he had
intended to operate the fleet "for many years to come". Any hope of Concorde
remaining in service was further thwarted by Airbus' unwillingness to provide
maintenance support for the aging airframes.
Air France made its final Concorde landing in the United States in New York City
from Paris on May 30, 2003. Firetrucks sprayed the traditional arcs of water
above the aircraft on the tarmac of John F. Kennedy airport. It made its final
commercial flight back to Paris the following day. The end of Air France's
Concorde services was also marked by a charter around the Bay of Biscay.
An auction of Concorde parts and memorabilia for Air France was held at
Christie's in Paris, on November 15, 2003. One thousand three hundred people
attended, and several lots exceeded their predicted values by ten or more times.
BA's last Concorde departure from the Grantley Adams International Airport
in Barbados was on August 30, 2003.
A final week of farewell flights saw Concorde visiting Birmingham on October 20,
Belfast on October 21, Manchester on October 22, Cardiff on October 23, and
Edinburgh on October 24. Each day the aircraft made a return flight out and
back into Heathrow to the cities concerned, often overflying those cities at
low altitude. Over 650 competition winners and 350 special guests were carried.
On the evening of October 23, 2003, the Queen consented to the illumination
of Windsor Castle, as Concorde's last ever west-bound commercial flight
departed London, and flew overhead. This is an honour normally restricted to
major state events and visiting dignitaries.
British Airways retired its aircraft the next day, October 24. One Concorde
left New York to a fanfare similar to its Air France predecessor's, while two
more made round-trips, one over the Bay of Biscay, carrying VIP guests including
many former Concorde pilots, and one to Edinburgh. The three aircraft then
circled over London, having received special permission to fly at low altitude,
before landing in sequence at Heathrow. The two round-trip Concordes landed at
4:01 and 4:03 PM BST, followed at 4:05 by the one from New York. All three
aircraft then spent 45 minutes taxiing around the airport before finally
disembarking the last supersonic fare-paying passengers. The pilot of the
New York to London flight was Mike Bannister.
Passengers on the final transatlantic flight included:
Tony Benn, former US model Christie Brinkley, ballerina Darcey Bussell,
TV motoring correspondent Jeremy Clarkson, Joan Collins and her husband Percy Gibson,
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, Sir David Frost, Stock Exchange chairman Chris Gibson-Smith,
actor Nigel Havers, model Jodie Kidd, British Airways chairman Lord Marshall, advertising mogul Lord Saatchi
Piers Morgan, then editor of the Daily Mirror, CNN anchor Richard Quest, the chairmen or chief executives of:
GlaxoSmithKline, BAE Systems, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, P&O, the Royal Bank of Scotland,
and a lucky traveller who had booked a regular ticket over a year earlier.
Bonhams held an auction of British Airways' Concorde artifacts on
December 1, 2003, at Olympia Exhibition Centre, in Kensington, London.
Items sold included a machmeter, a nose cone, Concorde pilot and passenger
seats, and even the cutlery, ashtrays, and blankets used onboard. About 3/4
million was earned with the first half- million going to 'Get Kids Going!' a
charity which gives disabled children and young people the opportunity to
participate in sports.
Only 20 Concordes were built, six for development and 14 for commercial service.
two pre-production aircraft
16 production aircraft
The first two of these did not enter commercial service. Of the 14 which flew
commercially, 12 were still in service in April, 2003.
All but two of these aircraft - a remarkably high percentage for any commercial
fleet - are preserved. The two which are not are F-BVFD (cn 211), which was
withdrawn from service in the 1980s and s