Crossing the Atlantic ocean always became a major milestone throughout transportation history. Today airliner takes more than 8hours to complete this journey from London to New York. But almost two decades ago, with the Concorde, we could able to do this in 2hours, 53minutes. It creates a new era in commercial aviation history. Concorde flew edge of space Mach 2 speed, which is much faster than the speed of sound. Concorde easily crowned as the queen in the sky; still, no other commercial airliner couldn’t compete with her speed. Concorde not only revolutionized aviation technology it also creates its own culture in commercial aviation.
The Concorde fleet service is dedicated to celebrities and people who like to luxurious. Everyone had a dream to fly on it. But in 2003, after serving three decades, the Concorde fleet end up in the museums. Why they stopped successfully operated the world’s fastest commercial airliner? Aviation manufacturers had the technology to create new supersonic airlines, but why they still didn’t? This looks like a major misstep in commercial aviation. Let’s find out all things you should know about Concorde.
When WW2 start aviation industry plays a big role in the war. Thousands of aircrafts models and new aviation technologies have been developed for the war. In the meantime, military aviation engineers researched and developed a new technology called jets for powering their fighter aircrafts. Jet engine-powered aircraft had more benefits in the speed, and high attitude turboprop aircraft had. After the war United States, British and Soviet Russia continue their experiments with jet engines.
Beyond The Sound Barrier
On 1947 October 14, the world’s first time USAF test pilot Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier by X-1 aircraft. This record insults the nations to create new generation supersonic fighter jets. In the next few years, new speed records quickly followed. When the 1955 USAF, USSR, and RAF developed and operated first-generation supersonic fighter jets fleet. USAF’s first supersonic jet was a North American F-100 super fighter, and then they also bought F-104 starfighter jets from the Lockheed. British RAF research center developed Fairey Delta 2 aircraft as their first supersonic fighter jet, and USSR developed Mig-19 as their first supersonic fighter jet.
World First Commercial Jet Airliner
Aircraft manufacturers also wanted to use military-developed technologies in commercial aviation. On July 27, 1949, British aviation stunt the world with the first jet airliner, the DE Havilland Comet. This aircraft flew higher and faster than any airliner before it. But unfortunately, this first-generation jet-age aircraft had problems to fix. After a few years of service, all the Comet aircraft were grounded.
Learning from the Comet errors, American aviation manufacture entered the commercial jet market. In 1957 Boeing launched B-707, and in 1958 Douglas launched DC-8. Both aircraft got high popularity among the aviation sector, and more than thousands of airplanes were built. European countries lost their aircraft manufacturing market.
To re-enter the market, Europeans need a new aircraft with new technology. At this time, military fighter jets routinely operated beyond the sound barrier. So France and the British came with a new idea to build the world’s first commercial supersonic airliner. This project is called SST(Super Sonic Transportation). Both nations agree to named their prototype aircraft Concorde. The meaning of Concorde in both languages is agreement, harmony, or union.
Starting The Concorde Project
In 1961 British Aircraft Corporation and France Aerospatiale signed the Concorde program as a joint project. Thousands of France and British engineers started to work together to make Concorde in reality. After the moon Apollo project, Concorde was the most technically ambitious project of the century. Without any advanced software or computers like today, engineers and designers had to draw the entire Concorde on thousands of papers by hand. After the hundreds of prototypes and wind tunnel testings, engineers knew how the Concorde should be.
Five years before the first test flight, world pioneer airlines orders more than 70 Concordes. In1965, Aerospatiale started building Concorde 001, and simultaneously 002 was built in Bristol.
Concorde First Flight
After almost a decade of research and developments first Concorde 001 took off on March 2, 1969, from Toulouse, France.
Captain Andre Turcat piloted this flight. The aircraft reached twice the speed of sound (2.04 Mach or 2180km/h). Then both 001 and 002 presented in Paris airshow.
Queens In The Sky, But Nobody Wanted
Also, France and British sent out their latest prototype to the world tour with the message, “This is what the most popular aircraft in the year 2000 will look like”. Everyone needed to see and experienced Concord’s Mach 2 speed.
But after the first time seeing and experiencing the aircraft, lots of buyers lost their impression of Concorde. Concorde had the speed, but Concorde was too small, it consumed more fuel and generated a lot of sound during takeoff landings they expected. Also, Concorde makes a big sound called a sonic boom when it breaks the sound barrier. It was an annoying thing to ground people. The first time Concorde reached to America, more than 7000 people complained to authorities about the aircraft noise.
The American aviation industry also doesn’t want to see British and French aircraft ruin their market. So they use their money and made a protest against the Concorde.
When the tour end TV channels and newspapers headlined the aircraft as a noisy environmental sin. National Science Foundation of the United States claimed that Concorde caused severe environmental damage to the ozone layer.
But the biggest challenge facing the program was economic. Concorde had been designed in 1960 when jet fuel was just pennies per gallon. But when the time Concorde entered the service oil prize began to skyrocket.
Many airlines couldn’t face this challenge, and some airlines were bankrupt. Other airlines never wanted to make their own dig hole by buying an airliner that burned four times more fuel than the first-generation jet airliner. Initially ordering the Concordes, one by one airlines canceled their orders. Some buyers also prohibited Concorde from flying via their country because of its big sound.
Greatest Deal In Aviation History
After spending more than £1.3 billion on British and France only choice was with or without any buyers to continue the program. At that time, British Airways was a nationalized airline, and also British Airways was the only international airline British had. So British government forced BA to integrate the Concorde in their fleet. Instead of paying millions for each aircraft, BA got lucky to make the greatest deal in Aviation history.
According to the deal, BA only had to pay £1 for each £23 million cost aircraft. British and Air France airlines were the only airlines that put the Concorde into service. British Airways got seven Concordes, Air France also got the seven Concordes. On January 21, 1976, two Concordes simultaneously took off from London and Paris airports carrying their first passengers to New York.
Concorde Marvel Design And Technology
Concorde design looks similar to a paper dart airplane. But beneath it, there was a triumph of engineering. Its ogival delta wing design makes the Concorde special from other airliners. Lucien Servanty, James Arnot Hamilton, and many other leading aircraft designers work thousands of hours to make the Concorde in reality. To travel comfortability at the supersonic speed, designers gave it to very long and narrow design.
Loudest Engines In The Commercial Aviation
Four RR Olympus 593 Engines Made 152 200lbs Thrust Power
Concordes needed three times much powerful thrust power compared to a normal jet airliner for traveling at twice the speed of sound. This thrust power was created by the four Rolls Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 MK 610 turbojet engines.
These four engines made 122 000 lbs thrust, and if the pilot wants more thrust, he could increase the thrust by adding another 30 200 lbs by activating the afterburners. These engines were the loudest engines commercial airliner ever had.
Why Concorde Has Retractable Nose?
Concorde had another unique feature on her nose any aircraft never had. That is, Concorde can lower her nose to -12.5° position. That because Concorde required a very high angle of attack at landings and takeoffs. In this case, the pilot couldn’t see the ground clearly with the aircraft’s point nose. To get a better view for pilots in takeoff and landings, designers include an extendable visor for the aircraft nose. Pilots lower the visor in takeoffs and landings and set the flat position while traveling at supersonic speed
Concorde Painted By A Special White Paint
The whole Concorde fleet was painted with highly reflective special white paint. When the aircraft travels at Mach 2, even though 60 000ft friction and air compressibility heat up the aircraft’s outer skin up to 120 degrees. The limiting temperature of the structure was 127. If the aircraft would be flying in warmer air, the Concorde autopilot system controls the aircraft’s speed. Instead of using the Mach numbers, the autopilot system uses the aircraft’s outer skin heat data to control the aircraft speed.
This heat-up problem also stretched the aircraft up to 9 inches in length. This situation creates a gap in the cockpit. So engineers had to install expansion joints throughout the airplane. For example, the Concorde cabin floor was designed on the rollers so the airframe expansion wouldn’t affect the cabin floor.
In 1996 Air France Sierra Delta aircraft painted with Blue color for Pepsi Cola promotion. But with this dark color paint, Concorde couldn’t hold a long time in maximum cruising speed. Most of the time in the promotion tour, this aircraft had to fly Mach 1.7 speed instead to Mach 2.0 speed.
Aircraft Center Of Gravity Change At The Supersonic Speed
Concorde faced another big issue. When the Concorde accelerated to supersonic speed shockwaves moves the plane center of lift position to further back. But the aircraft’s center of gravity position didn’t change at all. So this situation creates a nose-down attitude in the flight. To compensate this problem, the center gravity point must be moved to the rear. For changed the center of gravity, design engineers used a fuel flow system throughout the flight.
Concorde had 13 fuel tanks for stabilizing the aircraft during cruise flight engineer pumped fuel from the forward fuel tank to the aft fuel tank. This aft fuel tank is located under the vertical stabilizer, but this fuel then becomes unusable during the cruise. Pilots called this ballast fuel.
Overall length – 202.4ft (61.66m)
Height Form Ground – 40.0ft(12.2m)
Wing Length – 90.0ft (27.66m)
Empty Weight – 86.75ton(173, 500lbs)
Engines – Four Rolls Royce/Snecma 593 MK 610 turbojet engines
Fuel Capacity -119 500litres( 26 286 gallons)
Speed – 2179km/h(max), Mach 2.04
Range – 7250 km(max)
Max Celing Altitude – 60 000ft
Autopilot – Yes
Seats – 100 passengers
Average Fuel Comsuption – 6771 gallons (25 629liters) per hour
Max Take Off Weight – 185 tonnes (408 000lbs)
Flight Crew – 2 Pilots, 1 Flight Engineer
Does Concorde have an Autopilot System?
Yes. Concorde was one of the first generation aircraft that had the advanced autopilot system. The Concorde autopilot system has the capability to land the aircraft itself by using the airports’ instrument landing system(ILS) signals. Pilots usually used this system when bad weather times. Also, the autopilot system is used most of the time during the flight control to aircraft speed.
Why did Concorde land with high angel off attack?
Concorde landed at the airports with a high angle of attack. Concords wing design not included flaps or speed breaks. So the landing speed was reduced by the high angle of attack with creating a lot of drags on the wings. But meantime, Concorde burns out a lot of fuels generating lots of thrust for maintaining the altitude.
Concordes touch-down speed was 158Knots to 160Knots, and pitch position was 11.5. After the landing pilot flying, the full reverse thrust and eight rear buckets closed together and forced the engine output into the opposite direction, slowing down the aircraft.
Soviet Concorde TU-144
When Concorde was developing in Europe United States, and Soviet Russia, attention also got into supersonic transportation. At this time world in a cold war, every country wanted to be first. American supersonic transportation contract won by Boeing. But after years of research United States left the game early without any practical prototype. Instead of developing supersonic transportation, they chose Jumbo Jet as their future of aviation.
But Soviet Russia didn’t leave the game. They ordered engineers to build a supersonic jet before the Europeans. Instead of developing new technologies for supersonic airliner, Russians found an easy way to win the race. Soviet Russian spies stole more than 90 000 technical blueprints from the Concorde program. With European technology, the Soviets built TU-144 supersonic airliner.
TU-144 made its flights were made. TU-144 was bigger and much faster by 250km/h than the Concorde. But the other hand, TU-144 had many disadvantages first flight on December 31, 1968, before the 2months Concorde took off. Eight compared to Concorde. It was very loud, uncomfortable, and dangerous. After flying one time in the passengers and pilots continuously complained about flight comfortability.
“The dominant impression was not speed but noise, Ear shattering roar that could almost have been heard back in Queens.”New York Time Article
Russian only care about winning the race to build the first supersonic airliner. Later, Soviet engineers identified more than 500 failures from the aircraft. But they were never fixed these bugs. Confirming the passenger fear to fly on TU-144, one of the flights explodes in the 1973 Paris air show in front of thousands of eyes. Russians knew if the flight crashing with passengers on board could be a huge problem. So after serving 1973 to 1978, authorities decide to retire the aircraft from commercial service. Again Concorde became the clear winner.
Rebranding Into The Luxury Airline
When the idea came to build a Concorde purpose was to become the world’s fastest global connecting transport method in the century. The industry had high hope on the Concorde project. But when the final output came to service industry couldn’t afford it. Concorde became the most expensive aircraft to operate in aviation. Every time Concorde takes off, British and France airways lost money. By 1980 rumors were spreading that plane would be retired early.
But everything turns around. British and Air France introduced a new business model for the Concorde. Concorde was rebranded into an ultra-exclusive travel experience. Its new passengers had much deeper pockets.
By the end of 1980, British and Air France doubled the ticket price from they were in 1970. Then, ticket prices yearly got higher and higher, but customers had no problem with it when the 1990 travel London to New York Concorde ticket cost more than $12 000 today’s dollar. With only seven aircrafts, British Airways e 20% of all profits made by the operating Concorde fleet.
By the end of Concorde service in 2003, British Airways made £1.75bn in revenue against the £ 1bn operational costs.
Who Flew On The Concorde?
Many of the times, world-famous characters love to fly on Concorde. Paul Mccartney, Elton John, George Michael, Hugh Grant, Roger Moore, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, British Royal family members, and many more were on the Concorde’s regular passengers list. Also, business people who travel across the Atlantic love Concorde’s speed and comfortability.
Concorde service also gave its customers the most luxurious experience in the air. They had the best meals, the best view, and the best service in the world. When the meal is over, passengers were at their destination. So no time waste or jet lag is flying with Concorde.
Become A National Pride In The UK
Concorde participated in all the major British national events with the RAF Red Arrows. They flew over the London city with carrying British dignity.
In this time Queen Elizabeth2 represents the sea and Concorde was the symbol of the sky. They both represent British power. Concorde had high recognition all over the world. That’s why Queen also use to fly diplomatic tours with the Concorde.
Concorde Tragedic Accident
On July 25, 2000, Air France 4590 Concorde flight ready for its journey from Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, to John F.Kennedy airport, New York. This is a very regular flight for the crew and the aircraft. That day flight was full with the German tourist group who are going for the cruise tour in New York. At 4.42 p.m Flight 4590 starts to take off on the Gaulle runway. When the aircraft leaves the runway Air traffic controller suddenly spotted a flame at the plane’s back.
Immediately controllers hit the red button and warned the pilots. Meantime pilot struggled to return the aircraft safely back to the airport. But they couldn’t. Concorde crashed into a hotel. Total 113 people died in the crash. It includes 100 boarding passengers, nine crew members, and four ground peoples. All the Concordes were grounded until the investigation found the answer to the crash.
Cause To The Air France 4590 Accident
Investigators found a 20cm piece of metal caused to end of the 30 years Concorde safety record. Normally before the Concorde took off, airport authorities do a full runway inspection. But that day flight was delayed so authorities couldn’t complete it. US Continental Airline DC 10 flight took off ahead of the Concorde. DC 10 engine left a titanium strip on the runway.
When the Concorde reached its rotating speed, this metal strip ruptured one of the Concorde’s left tire. With the tire burst around 4kg, a heavy rubber piece flies into the delta wing and made a huge shock wave on the wings. This shock wave breaks the weakest joint in the fuel tank. Jet fuel starts to cascade over the engine. At that time, Concordes had more than 8000kg of fuels. The burst tire piece also broke the left gear power cable. This broken electric cable makes contact and made sparks during the takeoff. Then the sparkles ignite the leaking fuel.
These all scenarios happened after the aircraft reached the V1 speed. Pilots had to take off the airplane. The Concorde reached 60m from the ground, and it’s lost both one and two engines. Pilots couldn’t turn over the aircraft back to Gaulle airport with too low attitude. They decided to land the aircraft 5km ahead runway at Le Bourget airport. But unfortunately, before they reached the airport, the aircraft couldn’t hang in the air.
After this tragedic accident, British Airways and Air France spent more than 200 million euros purchasing better tires and tanks reinforcements. Concordes commercial flights restarted on November 7, 2001. But after two years, both airlines retired their Concorde fleet.
Reasons To Service End
Air France 4590 accident – More than 200 air accidents happen yearly, and more than 2000 people die from these accidents worldwide. But Concorde accident news spread all around the world, likes the Titanic. It’s shocked the industry. That because Concorde was known as the queen in the sky at that time.
After this accident, Concorde regular customers got some fear to fly on it. The aircraft fleet was also grounded for more than one year. This incident creates a lot of pressure on Air France and British Airways.
9/11 attack – 9/11 attack made a huge impact on the whole aviation industry. The attack day was also a special day for the Concorde. After the France accident, the first time British airways passenger Concorde flight landed at New York airport shortly before the World Trade Center attack.
The 9/11 attack killed fourteen Concorde best customers who flew at least 20 times a year. After this accident, British Airways restarted their regular Concorde flights to New York on November 7, 2001. But the passenger confidence of air traveling was in the low level.
High Maintenance Cost – Every hour Concorde in the air required 22 hours of special maintenance in the hanger. This maintenance procedure required a specially trained crew and special instruments. The maintenance budget was too higher than the regular airliner and Concorde technology was also different from others.
Old Technology – Concorde was starting to design in early 1960. It was one of the first aircraft electrical wiring control systems had. But when 2000, aviation technology changed in many ways. At that time, all the aircraft cockpits system convert to a digital system from analog systems. Flight engineers no longer needed in the cockpit for check systems. These all things are done by the onboard computers.
But Concorde flight instrument system was never updated with these technologies. At this time Concorde manufacture Aerospatiale company was owned by the Airbus company. Airbus made a proposal to BA and Air France for upgrading the Concorde with new technology. But they denied it due to high price tag.
B 747 and Long Haul – When Concorde builds in Europe, Americans think about carrying more passengers and goods to long destinations. So instead of building a supersonic airliner, Boeing built a jumbo jet airliner called B 747. By 2000 this aircraft was the most successful airliner industry had. The airplane had the capability to make nonstop flights worldwide with carrying more than 450 passengers. This was much more economical than a supersonic airliner.
After more than 18 years of Concorde’s final flight, we still couldn’t see a supersonic airliner. The reason behind it is economic. Concorde revolutionized air traveling, but it’s never a success in commercial aviation. That because Concorde was too expensive for most of the passengers. But we can expect next generation supersonic commercial airliner in the next few decades. But these aircrafts also must faces to problems Concorde had face when it came to the market.
Spike Aerospace Company is currently developing a private supersonic jet. The spike engineers say their aircraft design has reduced the sonic boom just to the sound of a car door slamming. The company also says this aircraft would be slower than the Concorde, but aircraft could reduce flight by 50% and fly with more fuel efficiency than the Concorde. As a private airliner, we could expect this aircraft would not face the economic problem Concorde faced.
Boom Supersonic, Colorado located company also developing a commercial supersonic airliner. Their first prototype, called XB-1 scaled-down version, planned to take off first time at the end of 2021. The Boom aims to ready full production passenger version in 2029. The passenger version will provide the capability to carry around 80 passengers with an average commercial jet’s twice speed. Boom Company already signed an agreement with the US Airforce to build a VIP supersonic transportation model.
Mach 3.0 is powered by Virgin Galactic company. After the successful Space Ship3 project Virgin’s next plan to revolutionize air traveling with a hypersonic commercial airliner. Like the name, the aircraft would be capable of flying at Mach 3.0 cruising speed. But the project is still an early age. According to the news reports, this aircraft also design for served luxury passengers.
What happens to the retired Concordes? Where you can see a Concorde now?
001 – Museum Of Air and Space,Le Bourget, France
002 – Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, UK
101 – Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Uk
102 – Musee Delta, Orly Airport, Paris, France
201 – Airbus Factory, Toulouse, France
203 – Destroyed
204 – Manchester Airport UK
205 – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Virginia, USA
206 – Museum of Flight East Lothian Scotland
207 – Sinsheim Auto and Technic Museum, Germany
208 – Heathrow Airport BA Facility (Not Open For Visitors)
209 – Airbus Factory, Toulouse, France
210- Interpid Sea-Air Space Museum New York
212- Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
213- Museum Of Air and Space,Le Bourget, France
214- Museum Flight, Seatle, USA
215- Charles De Gaulle Airport,Paris, France
216 -Aerospace Bristol, UK