Son of Concorde
June 15, 2005 11:24 AM   Subscribe

The end of Concorde was one of the few times in modern history that technology has been forced to regress. But it won't take long to fix.
posted by Pretty_Generic (48 comments total)

 
Sigh. With jet pollution already bearing a significant responsibility for climate change, do we really need any more of these? Drag increases with the square of speed, so any improvements the designers make to engine efficiency, frontal area or drag coefficient will be largely moot. At 5 times the speed of sound this jet could require as much as 36 times as much fuel as a regular jumbo.
Stupid engineers. Oh wait.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2005


The end of Concorde was one of the few times in modern history that technology has been forced to regress.

The market rejected the particular application of the technology. It happens all the time.
posted by biffa at 11:52 AM on June 15, 2005


The end of Concorde was one of the few times in modern history that technology has been forced to regress.

Well, I'm looking at the latest crop of aeroplanes and don't see that technology has "regressed." 35 years has created a generation of planes that are more efficient, and comfortable than the concorde. When you factor in time through security and customs at both end, and ground transportation, the concorde still meant blowing an entire day on travel.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:09 PM on June 15, 2005


Concorde: range 2500 miles, speed 1300 mph, payload 100 passengers.

This new SST: range 5500 miles, speed 2000-3000 mph, payload 300 passengers.

It won't service the same routes or the same market sector. Concorde had such short legs it could barely go trans-Atlantic, and could only carry 100 passengers. A medium wide-body with the payload of a Boeing 787 or an A350 is a whole 'nother matter, especially if it's got the range to fly Tokyo-New York and the speed to cut the journey time by 70%.

As Dassault and the Japanese have been researching this niche for the past couple of decades, I suspect what we're seeing here is merely the first official confirmation of an existing project. It'll be really interesting to see what propulsion and materials technology they're planning on using ...
posted by cstross at 12:10 PM on June 15, 2005


Hitting a few web pages on this. It does not seem that technology has regressed, instead, many of the technological innovations developed for the concorde were adapted into other airframes and made profitable.

I expect the Pacific is really the best target market for something like this. Getting from the U.S. to Europe is a full day no matter what you do. Getting from the U.S. to Asia practically becomes a two-day affair.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2005


Ever since reading it, I've been disappointed that nothing ever came of the kooks who were pursuing The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed. It wasn't flashy, it wasn't fast, it wasn't fast and flashy, but it sure seemed smart. (link to a good description of the McPhee book.)
posted by OmieWise at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2005


"But it won't take long to fix."

sadly, I think not. The story is about a joint investment totaling $1.84 million a year for the next three years. In the aviation sector, that's barely enough to pay for the press release announcing the deal.

This won't be a serious project until they are spending billions of dollars.

Until then its just PR. And bad PR at that - they couldn't even get any cool conceptual art published!
posted by Jos Bleau at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2005


Oh, yeah. I guess I processed that as billion.

Shit.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:48 PM on June 15, 2005


Rutan, of Scaled Composites, can build neat stuff that actually works for that kind of money - but Boeing, EADS, all the rest, can't.

SpaceShip1 cost about $50 million, I think. If Boeing or Lockheed were in charge of its development the cost would have soared to over $1 billion and the first flight would still be 2 years away.
posted by Jos Bleau at 12:57 PM on June 15, 2005


I don't think anyone will thank you for the return of the window-rattling thump that Concorde delivered to the homeowners of Cornwall every day, as it went supersonic just off the coast.
posted by scruss at 1:13 PM on June 15, 2005


1.84 million dollars per year for three years? That's less than six million dollars. They couldn't research the seats for that sort of money ...
posted by kaemaril at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2005


Technology has a bit more "regressing" to do.

With more than 4000 surface to air missiles gone missing in Iraq, I don't think I'll be investing in Boeing, Airbus, or any airline for a while.

The air transport winner might be whoever installs countermeasures first.
posted by surplus at 1:47 PM on June 15, 2005


I remember Jimmy Breslin commenting on the extravagance and uselessness of the SST (the USA supersonic bid). "It's like an electric pepper mill."
posted by QuietDesperation at 1:56 PM on June 15, 2005


It does seem like absurdly little money. Could it be a typo? If not, it's a terrible article.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:56 PM on June 15, 2005


Technology has a bit more "regressing" to do.

Good lord. Invest in cave dwellings, duct tape and saran wrap if you will.

However superior technology is part of countermeasures in defense, for example I see they will finally be outfitting passenger jets with countermeasures against shoulder fired rockets.
posted by nervousfritz at 2:04 PM on June 15, 2005


they will finally be outfitting passenger jets with countermeasures

Oh really? When? We've known for a year the missiles were missing. Another bill got introduced last week requiring arliners to do something. Think it's a slam dunk?
posted by surplus at 2:15 PM on June 15, 2005


If you think about it for more than a few seconds, then it's pretty obvious that you're not going to be able to build a system that effectively protects civilian aircraft from shoulder fired rockets. You can build something that sort of works and tell people that now they're safe but that's not the same thing. The best protection against portable anti aircraft weapons is to not hand them out like candy to people who happen to be you allies this week (i.e. the Afghan resistance during the Soviet invasion).
posted by rdr at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2005


Boeing had an SST in development, but high fuel costs, the concorde fallout and inability to fly at >= Mach 1 over the US killed it. It was replaced by the 7E7/787 dreamliner project.

Now I do remember a while ago there was a story about scientists being able to alter the shape of the aircraft to minimize the boom or eliminate it entirely (or deflect it up higher into the atmosphere, instead of all around the craft). If that technology is included in this, and it can fly at 1500MPH+ over land, it becomes more commercially viable. It'd take you longer to get through security than it would to go from NYC/LA. I'd love a LA/Sydney route. Austrailia in 7 hours? Yea!
posted by SirOmega at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2005


Hey, whaddya know. Raytheon announced today they've got a defense against shoulder fired missiles.

You know what would really help Raytheon prove there's a need for this?
posted by surplus at 2:49 PM on June 15, 2005


And who do you think now owns those ground-to-air missiles?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:04 PM on June 15, 2005


Raytheon also does work on anti-ballistic missile systems. Those systems are not going to work either. Just because someone is willing to sell you a system that they claim will do something doesn't mean that the system will actually work.
posted by rdr at 3:16 PM on June 15, 2005


Raytheon also does work on anti-ballistic missile systems. Those systems are not going to work either. Just because someone is willing to sell you a system that they claim will do something doesn't mean that the system will actually work.
posted by rdr at 3:16 PM on June 15, 2005


Is there some reason you couldn't just start with a B-1 bomber and put some seats and toilets in it?
posted by Rumple at 3:37 PM on June 15, 2005


The market rejected the particular application of the technology.

Not so much the market rejecting as the fiercely lobbied US government banning a non-native jet from flying over land, thus destroying the planned coast-to-coast in two hours run, and crippling Concorde.
posted by bonaldi at 3:44 PM on June 15, 2005


I heard a brilliant conspiracy theory which was that Concorde died because of pre-war anti-French US sentiment, reducing Air France's potential audience, which led to there only being one Concorde operator (British Airways), which led to Boeing's maintenance fees increasing, which led to it becoming unprofitable. "Freedom Flies".
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:50 PM on June 15, 2005


How much would it cost to build a vacuum tube supersonic subway from New York to L.A.? (okay, I read too much scifi...)

SST is no solution, forgetting "security" for a moment, it takes too long to get high enough in the air.

Now New York to Hong Kong, I can see wanting an SST for that trip.
posted by Chuckles at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2005


Zeppelins would be way cooler than SSTs. I'm talking zeppelings the size of supertankers. Take a cruise in the sky, or transport a zillion cargo containers where ships can't take them. That would be sweet.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:21 PM on June 15, 2005


TheOnlyCoolTim
Dude, you totally got the cool thang down re 'Ze Zeppelins'. A friend and I are really into bringing back the big airships and it would be such a cool thing to do.
Imagine a cruise ship cruising around the sky just one to two hundred feet overhead touring the Amazon rain forest or Siberian wastelands in summertime. . . Transoceanic voyages following migrating whales, exploring Antarctica with a view from a warm lounge with panoramic windows. . . Floating over the African Savannah as the sun sets watching the wildlife settle in for the night . . .
The Great Rift Valley two week cruise . . . The list goes on.
posted by mk1gti at 5:35 PM on June 15, 2005


As a young lad I attended a school in Surrey, and even at subsonic speeds, the engines in the Concorde would make the whole classroom shake, and the windows rattle as it gained altitude over southern England. It was cool.

I was sad to see the Concorde put to rest, but it was losing money, and had been for a long time. One should remember that at the time it was conceived and developed, the oil crisis of the mid 1970's was two decades in the future. Even jet fuel was cheap. It obviously had it's flaws, the most serious of them tragically exposed by a foreign object on a Paris runway, but it was a great plane, the cooperation in its development between BAC and Aerospatiale was examplary, and the aerospace industry learned a lot by its development.
posted by stonesy at 5:37 PM on June 15, 2005


Raytheon announced today they've got a defense against shoulder fired missiles.
Its technology, called "Vigilant Eagle,"
----------------------------------------------------------------
Shouldn't that be called 'Thieving Chicken'?
posted by mk1gti at 5:38 PM on June 15, 2005


How much would it cost to build a vacuum tube supersonic subway from New York to L.A.? (okay, I read too much scifi...)

Subway schmubway. REAL men make the vacuum container out of clear ultra-strong plastic, and mount the maglev track on an elevated piste.

Nothing like getting a view of the landscape 30 feet below whizzing silently by at Mach 3.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:00 PM on June 15, 2005


temporary aside: just think of all the technological marvels we could be traveling around in now if we'd been able to use that 'peace dividend' after the cold war ended.
posted by mk1gti at 6:08 PM on June 15, 2005


I agree, mk1gti. In fact, imagine if we'd never sunk all that money and sweat and mindpower into the Cold War in the first place. When more than 60% of the energy used by the human race goes into killing each other or simply preparing to do so, you know something's a bit off.

We ought to be able to do better. The fact that we can't seem to is kind of depressing.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:52 PM on June 15, 2005


Imagine a cruise ship cruising around the sky just one to two hundred feet overhead touring the Amazon rain forest or Siberian wastelands in summertime. . . Transoceanic voyages following migrating whales, exploring Antarctica with a view from a warm lounge with panoramic windows. . . Floating over the African Savannah as the sun sets watching the wildlife settle in for the night . . .



posted by c13 at 8:46 PM on June 15, 2005


The end of Concorde was like the end of manned Moon missions - we stopped trying to go further, higher, faster and have settled for mediocrity in all things.

mk1gti - That sounds like an excellent way to spend a couple of weeks if you want to be a spectator, but wouldn't you rather be a bit closer to the action? No? OK, takes all kinds I suppose. Also, business travellers care about speed and reliability and an airship would be slow and (because of susceptibility to weather) unable to meet a reliable schedule.

Anyone who thinks that a reliable system can be developed to protect against shoulder-fired missiles in a civilian setting is kidding themselves - what sort of system can protect against a missile fired from the end of a runway at a distance of 20 metres? Nothing can and that is exactly the sort of threat that these missiles pose.
posted by dg at 9:08 PM on June 15, 2005


c13: That's probably the best Hindenburg burning photo I've seen.

Meanwhile, if we don't fill it with explosive gas or paint it with rocket fuel, I think we'll be alright.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:21 PM on June 15, 2005


"Drag increases with the square of speed" Kind of But Concorde was way more efficient at cruise doing 15 gallons per mile than lumbering over Putney at low speed when it gobbled 40 gallons per mile. (don't ask me where I got the last numbers, but they've stuck with me for 25 years...)
posted by marvin at 9:25 PM on June 15, 2005


c13
You see, that's the neat thing about hydrogen filled gasbags, no need for a distress signal, it's already provided! Great for those remote areas.

dg
There was a great book written about the original Graf Zeppelin around the mid to late 20's and an around the world trip that it took. The neat thing about it was that it was able to go to the most remote areas while providing all the comforts and luxuries of home, something that I'm sure would appeal to many. To say nothing of the vantage point that would be available nowhere else. Think about what it would be like to just hover at the edge of the Niagra Falls as the mist and water washed over you.
The point isn't so much speed, so much as it is time to linger and enjoy the experience. The difference between a traveler and a tourist. A traveler sticks around for awhile. A tourist just goes 'Oh, souvenir shop! Next! and leaves.
I think it will happen someday, but not in the climate that seems to pervade the world these days (to much need to satisfy the needs of weapons contractors and not enough emphasis on the greater good).
posted by mk1gti at 11:10 PM on June 15, 2005


Yes, I don't doubt that your vision of a leisurely cruise around the world would be enjoyable. However, the concorde was not really aimed at those who wish to take the "road less travelled", it was aimed at those for whom the destination is all and the journey itself is merely wasted time between meetings. It met that need very elegantly, in my opinion, looked fantastic and gave us all something else to envy the rich for into the bargain. Plus the whole pushing the envelope thing, which was what I most liked about it.
posted by dg at 11:33 PM on June 15, 2005


Other folks have made the point that the technology has not regressed, but rather the market appears to have no place for the level of performance this particular technology had enabled.

It's not the first time, though; consider train travel. At one point, average speeds topping 100 miles an hour were achieved. However, as the market failed to support such travel at the rates necessary to maintain the infrastructure (in favor of planes, of course) the rails went to heck (and most are now shared with freight lines, which makes 'em pretty darn rough), so now your superliner train is lucky to do 60 at the top end.
posted by davejay at 11:41 PM on June 15, 2005


The end of Concorde was like the end of manned Moon missions - we stopped trying to go further, higher, faster and have settled for mediocrity in all things.

No, we didn't. We just concentrated on becoming very, very good at a relatively unexciting task. A commercial aircraft fresh off the line will carry many more people, more comfortably, a much longer way, with more powerful engines giving it a greater safety margin, than the "same" plane in 1975 or 1980. About the only thing it won't do scads better than an older plane is go fast, which is admittedly the sexy part, but there's nothing "mediocre" about advances in commercial aviation since Concorde.

A transatlantic SST never made much sense to me. Even if you live in, say, the NYC area and are going to London, you'll spend an hour and a half getting to JFK, another 2 hours clearing security and as a normal cushion, seven hours for the flight, call it an hour to clear customs, and another 90 minutes + to get wherever it is in London that you're going, for a total of 13 hours.

But for only a few thousand more dollars, you can knock that 13 hour trip down to... nine hours. Which still eats your whole damn day. Just doesn't make much sense unless you're stoopid rich, or crave status symbols.

If you were actually flying from Memphis to Glasgow, say, saving four hours on one leg of the flight is even less of a savings.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:08 AM on June 16, 2005


Actually, Xenophobe, BA at least had a better idea for handling things. Concord passengers were segregated from the writhing masses. Separate gate and all. Rather like Virgin works these days.

zeppelins are awesome. They are just a totally different place than fast jets. But people have wanted to bring them back since the Hindenberg blew up. I was stationed at Lakehurst for awhile, where I discovered it was like a secret cult.

SPEEDY FLIGHT:
What I don't understand exactly, why bother with airplanes, when rockets will get you anywhere on the planet so much MUCH faster? The old "stratorocket" concept of sci-fi.
posted by Goofyy at 1:04 AM on June 16, 2005


Not so much the market rejecting as the fiercely lobbied US government banning a non-native jet from flying over land, thus destroying the planned coast-to-coast in two hours run, and crippling Concorde.

Presumably the ban was on going supersonic over land, but I don't think anyone let them do that with Concorde? As scruss mentions it waited till it was off the coast of Cornwall before it went supersonic on this side of the Atlantic (and no-one minds about Cornwall much over here). (On a side note scruss, do you spend much/any time in Cornwall? Seem to remember you work in the wind energy sector too, something also up my street).

A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!
posted by biffa at 1:15 AM on June 16, 2005


Going places in person is so last millennium.
posted by aubilenon at 1:51 AM on June 16, 2005


dg: The end of Concorde was like the end of manned Moon missions - we stopped trying to go further, higher, faster and have settled for mediocrity in all things.

I don't call the last 30 years of space exploration to be mediocre. Hubble, Cassini, Gallileo, Magellan and the Mars Rovers are amazing technical achievements.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:46 AM on June 16, 2005


I'll go along with the argument of having to learn how to walk before you can run; current modes of transport by passenger jet are all well and good, but who wants to spend several hours sitting in an uncomfortable chair jetting across the continent, or *shudder* flying across the pond?
I welcome the next generation of our SST overlords, and rejoice in their children that will replace them, the international rocket plane! Huzzah! Cheeahs!
Anywhere on the planet in two hours or less! That's my kinda travel! Then it's off the rocket and onto the dirigible for some real quality sight-seeing!
posted by mk1gti at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2005


dg writes "what sort of system can protect against a missile fired from the end of a runway at a distance of 20 metres? Nothing can and that is exactly the sort of threat that these missiles pose."

Heck you don't need anything as sophisticated as a missile. Your buck standard RPG is more than sufficient and available at black market arms dealers everywhere.
posted by Mitheral at 11:35 PM on June 16, 2005


Exactly my point (well, almost) - the whole concept of providing hugely expensive sophisticated systems to protect commercial planes from attack is a load of crap and guess who pays for it? The consumer, of course.
posted by dg at 8:42 PM on June 19, 2005


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