In this 21st century, everything is running faster than the time when a grueling flight from Newyork to London still takes 7 hours on Jetliners. But you will be jealous to hear that people from the late 1970s to 2000 used to fly from New York to London in just 3.30 hours. Shocking but true many people from the 20th century had this supreme experience with Concorde. One of the world’s first generation SST airliners that could fly at Mach 2.02, which means the double speed of sound covering 1450 mph at cruising altitude.
People were thrilled with Concorde’s experience, luxury, and speed until the beautiful bird stopped flying in 2003 and retired forever. Planes that were considered to bring a new generation of aviation had a pause on the runway and we are still now reft from the experience of SST. But why did this miracle of engineering stop flying? And What is the future for SST?
What is SST?
SST refers to Supersonic Transport or Supersonic Airliners designed to transport passengers at the incredible speed of sound. Thanks to Major Charles E. Yeager of the U.S. Air Force, who broke the sound barrier for the first time in 1947 with a rocket power plane Bell X-1 and made supersonic aircrafts dream of every engineer.
Following Charles, many more pilots went supersonic with their aircraft as the world widely understood the concept. The records inspired the governments and engineers to bring commercial supersonic planes in line to cut down travel time and shrink the world.
From the 1950s to the mid-1960s, American, Russian, British, and French governments spent millions of dollars researching supersonic aircraft and came up with their own SST designs. But USA’s SST Boeing 2707 never came to reality where the first Supersonic commercial TU-144 built by the Soviet Union served civilians for just three years.
Coincidently, the British and French designs were similar and needed a huge budget to build on. So both countries came up together, combining their budget and innovation to bring the new era of supersonic. The one and only winner left in the supersonic era was Concorde, which stayed in service for 27 years and became an iconic aircraft revolution.
History and Engineering of Concorde
The journey of the Concorde began on November 29, 1962, with an Anglo-French treaty. The governments of Great Britain and France signed an agreement to build a supersonic jetliner together. In tribute to the British and French treaty, the French named the plane Concorde, which means “agreement” in their native language.
But Harold Macmillan, then Prime minister of the United Kingdom, changed the name to “Concord,” which also means agreement or harmony. A few years later, in 1967, Tony Benn, British Government Minister of Technology, again changed the spelling back to Concorde where the “E” had been suffixed to represent “Excellence, England, Europe, and Entente.” But Scotsman claimed that the E only represented England, and in reply, Benn said the E also referred to “Écosse,” a French name of Scotland. It seems the supersonic beauty got its name after many arguments.
Even though the French and British governments had many arguments over the name, the design and development didn’t face any clash. On the contrary, thousands of British and French engineers worked together on making supersonic dreams successful.
Mockups of Concorde fueled the world’s imagination, and the press was dazzled by the demonstration in 1963. Hence, according to the BBC, several Airline companies ordered more than 70 Concordes, which was expected to grow to nearly 200 by 1975.
Engineering Behind Concorde
Aérospatiale, a French-owned predecessor of Airbus Industries and the British Aircraft Corporation was in charge of manufacturing the Concorde. Both companies agreed to produce a four-engine, delta-wing supersonic airliner.
The planes required at least twice as powerful as engines on subsonic jets to fly at supersonic speed. It also needed robust streamlined wings, airframes, and materials to survive in high temperatures caused by air friction.
So the Olympus 593 turbojet, developed by Rolls-Royce/Bristol Siddeley and Snecma, was selected to power Concorde. The engine was developed and powered more by the French and British engineers to meet the requirements for speed. And the final version of Olympus 593 was installed in number 4 under the wings and was called 593 mk610.
To control the airflow towards the engine, the Air Intake Control System was designed with a few flip doors that slowed the airflow from Mach 2 to Mach 0.5. Also, the Olympus 593 afterburners produced 38,000 pounds of thrust in each engine and left a signature smokey takeoff of Concorde.
Moreover, the fuel tanks flowed all over the plane to adjust the center of gravity for takeoff, cruising, and landing. And the most exciting and beautiful design of ogival delta wings distinguished the Concorde from other fellow airliners. The wings were called delta wings as they had a triangular shape like the greek delta and had a slight curve on the sides that refers to ogival. However, it took over 5000 hours of wind tunnel testing to perfect the delta wings.
The genius design of delta wings allowed Concorde to fly beyond Mach 2, also slow enough to fly in existing airports. The reason behind this unique wing design was to help the SST get lift at takeoff and control drag during flight. But the landing and takeoff of the first design were challenging as the long pointy nose of Concorde blocked pilots’ view for angled takeoff and landing. So, the engineers came up with a solution of droop-snoot where the snoot was bent downwards to clear the visibility during takeoff and landing.
Concorde was ready to fly at Mach 2 with a cruise speed of 1450 mph, faster than the earth spin with this extraordinary design and double power jet engines. After completing the full engineering, Concorcorde was prepared to unveil in front of the public in 1967 in Toulouse, France. The excitement of the world was seen on the ground, and everyone was looking at the future of aviation. Even the two test pilots who would fly the Concorde Prototype 001 were there to share the excitement. From French, the test pilot was Former Air Force Major André Turcat, and from Britain, the pilot was Former World War 2 Bomber Pilot Brian Trubshaw.
On a beautiful day on 2nd March 1969, the Concorde Prototype 001 made its first maiden flight from Toulouse. The ground near the runway was full of excited people who wanted to witness history. And the first maiden flight flown by Andre Turcat was successful and stayed in the air for 27 minutes. After that huge success of prototype 001, on April 9, 1969, The British Prototype 002 was also taken by Brian Trubshaw for a maiden flight. And the same excitement of the British people was also visible on the ground. But that extraordinary engineering had yet to face the biggest reality.
Why Concorde Stopped Flying?
After the first two successful maiden flights of Concorde, on October 1, 1969, the plane was taken for a supersonic flight. As soon as the supersonic flight took off, numerous complaints came from the civilians about the loud noise of Concorde. Even worse was the sonic boom that Concorde created while flying over the ground as it was too loud. And dark smoke produced by the Olympus engine was also a worrying point for many.
But Concorde still embarked on a rigorous flight testing program and went for a different sales tour in 1972 with a flight full of engineers. Although the first sales tour successfully achieved orders, the next ones started to backfire. No country wanted to have such noisy and smokey planes as they could threaten the environment. Even the sonic boom became a global issue and countries started banning supersonic flights over their head.
Adding to that, in 1973 oil crisis occurred that created an economic concern. One by one, every country that previously ordered the Concorde canceled their order. Lastly, the British and French governments forced Air France and British Airways to fly Concorde on commercial flights.
Finally, on January 21, 1976, two Concordes simultaneously took off from British Airways and Air French to glorify the first supersonic passenger journey. Flights flew from London to New York took only 3.30 hours that attracted the customers to board on. But the operation and maintenance cost of Concorde was huge to cover with a ticket price of £431 at that time. So, the airways exceeded the price of the Concorde ticket and Concorde airborne only rich people who could afford those tickets. So, celebrities, stars, investors, bankers, and business people became the regular customers of Concorde.
And after this price rise, Concorde started making money for the first time and became a luxurious ride to experience for many people. Rather than flying at speed, people choose Concorde to have exclusive wines and caviar on flight while enjoying the earth’s view from 60000 feet high. People could even see the earth’s curve from the flight and love the mesmerizing experience of their life. Also, the security of the Concorde flight had never faced any question until the tragedy happened.
On July 25, 2000, an Air France Concorde burst into flames while taking off and crashed on the nearby airport hotel. All 113 passengers with crew members died in the crash. Later investigation revealed that the left tire of Concorde Flight 4590 was hit by a chunk of metal left on the runway from a previously flown plane.
The tire burst into pieces, breaking the fuel tank near engine two. Soon the flight tail burned into flames and the pilots of the 4590 tried to rotate the plane, which ended up crashing. After that, all the 13 flights of Concorde serving that time were grounded for retrofitting stronger fuel tanks.
In late 2001, Concorde returned to service with more security; it could never recover from that crisis. To make matters worse, the 9/11 plane crash on Newyork deprived the civilians of boarding on Concorde. Also, the skyrocketing maintenance costs of Concorde laid the decision by the British and France to retire the supersonic plane. In the spring of 2003, Air France and British Airways announced their intention to retire Concorde flights permanently.
On October 24, 2003, British Airways operated the last ever Concorde flight on air, another historical moment in JKF International Airport in New York. And now Concorde is the only museum piece for many countries with its rival Soviet plane TU-144.
Future of Supersonic Transport
It’s been 18 years since the supersonic planes were grounded forever. But none can deny the glorious history of the Concorde that flew 50,000 flights carrying more than 2.5 million passengers in 27 years of service, according to Bussiness Insider. Those who had experienced this beautiful era of supersonic still want a comeback of Concorde on air. But there seemed to be no chance of Concorde coming back and reviving those beautiful supersonic eras.
Until April 1, 2019, Emirates Airlines announced the relaunch of Concorde by 2022. Even Emirates is determined to hire and train new pilots, flight attendants, and engineers to maintain Concorde. But this time, Concorde is not alone in the Supersonic race as the United States also intended to launch their quieter version of supersonic named “BOOM” by 2023.
So, to survive on the air, Concorde has to come up with more sustainable and quieter technology that can compete with Boom. Also, the price range should be a little considered as many people are still waiting to live that extraordinary experience. But whatever happens, the era of supersonic is coming back, and Concorde customers are already waiting around to experience those glorious days above the clouds again.