Kennedy Ground. For the last time. Speedbird Concorde 2 London Heathrow
October 23, 2018 11:57 PM   Subscribe

G-BOAG (Concorde 214, Alpha-Golf) left New York's JFK as BA2 on 24th October 2003. The final transatlantic passenger crossing of a Concorde. Arriving at Heathrow to landing in sequence with G-BOAE (Concorde 212, Alpha-Echo) and G-BOAF (Concorde 216, Alpha-Foxtrot).

Concorde 214 would return to JFK in early November on route to her new home at the Seattle Museum of flight. Having special permission to flight supersonic over northern Canada. Setting a New York City-to-Seattle speed record of 3 hours, 55 minutes, and 12 seconds.

Precursors
The roots of what became Concorde dates to the late 1950’s.

Bristol Aircraft at Filton, just outside Bristol was working on several supersonic airliners under the Type 198 project code. The Bristol design team was given the go ahead to develop a 110-seat long-range supersonic airliner, known as 'Type 223'. In Toulouse, Sud Aviation were also working on developing a supersonic airliner. The Super Caravelle project was designed as a successor to the first generation Caravelle jetliner.

With spiralling development cost on both projects. The two projects were combined as a Anglo-French project between British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Aérospatiale. Aérospatiale was the merger of Nord Aviation, Sud Aviation and SÉREB. BAC was formed of English Electric Aviation Ltd., Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft), the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Hunting Aircraft.

Development
Named from the French word concorde, or concord in English. Meaning agreement, harmony or union. The ideal name for a Anglo-French development.

Both the earlier designs looked externally similar but differed in size. Initial work looked at producing two versions. A longer ranged transatlantic version mirroring the Bristol Type 223 and a shorter ranged version mirroring the Super Caravelle. The development broke new ground in a number of areas. The shape was refined in wind tunnel testing. New materials were used to create the airframe. Materials that a commonplace today but new in the late 1960’s, especially on a civilian aircraft. Concorde featured the first Carbon brakes on an airliner.

Concorde’s most distinctive feature, the droop nose solved the problem of needing to be streamlined for supersonic flight but needing the have forward visibility at the high angles of attack required for landing.

Slowing the incoming air for the engines was a tricky problem. Turbojets can only function with subsonic airflows. The solution was to use a series of ramp to slow the Mach 2 airflow to manageable speeds. All automatically controlled.

The engines themselves, also a joint Anglo-French development were four Bristol/Snecma Olympus 593, two under each wing that allowed Concorde to Supercruise. A development of the Olympus used in the Avro Vulcan and BAC TSR-2. They were unusual by featuring afterburners, combined with thrust reversers.

The air intakes were not the only systems with a high level of automation. Concorde was one of the first production aircraft with Fly-by-wire controls. Two autopilots were combined with a flight director to provide stabilisation and automatic landing. The fuel system could transfer fuel between tanks to trim the Concorde in flight. Even if the flight deck looked very conventional.

Concorde 001 first flight on 2nd March 1969 from Toulouse, with Concorde 002 first taking flight on 9th April 1969. Both prototypes were present at the Paris air show later that year. On the 1st October Concorde 001 went supersonic for the first time. Concorde 002 went supersonic on the 25th March 1970.

In 1973, Concorde 001 was modified into a flying observatory. Allowing a group of Astronomers, a record breaking 74 minutes of totality.

Even before the type had entered service, plans were being made for a longer ranged version, Concorde B, which would remain on the drawing board.

Into service
After some busy sales efforts the order book looked healthy with Pan Am, BOAC, Air France, Panair do Brasil, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, American Airlines, United Airlines, Air India, Air Canada, Braniff, Singapore Airlines, Iran Air, Olympic Airways, Qantas, CAAC, Middle East Airlines, and TWA all taking options.

Options were not the only thing being picked up. Concerns over the amount of noise produced by Concorde and the environmental impact led to protests. Costs continued to spiral. Slowly the options were cancelled. The designs limited range and the fuel crisis of the 1970’s left only the flag carriers of France and the UK, Air France and British Airways as customers. Scheduled flight began on the 21st January 1976.

Concorde were still banned from supersonic flight but eventually permission was granted. Leading to joint Air France and British Airways flights to JFK from Paris and London. The subsonic but larger and more fuel efficient Boeing 747 took most of the sales, going on to be an icon in its own right. Soon Concorde became the reserve of the rich and famous, shuttling them between New York, London and Paris.

Other Supersonic Airliners
The British and French were not the only countries researching supersonic travel.

Soviet Union produced the only other supersonic airliner to enter commercial service. The Tupolev Tu-144, dubbed ‘Concordski’, looked superficially similar to Concorde. First flying on the 31st December 1968. Going supersonic on 5th June 1969, followed by becoming the first commercial transport to exceed Mach 2 on the 26th May 1970. Sadly, one example crashed at the 1973 Paris Air show delaying development. Passenger service finally started 1st November 1977. Another crash in May 1978 saw the entire passenger fleet grounded permanently. They did see use as a cargo transport until 1983, later for training the crew for the Buran and supersonic research by NASA.

American interest started with the Convair Model 58-9 and Douglas 2229. Finally, the competition came down to the Lockheed L-2000 and Boeing 2707. The Boeing design winning in the end and progressing to a wooden mockup before being cancelled.

Air France Flight 4590 (Previously)
25th July 2000, F-BTSC took off from Charles de Gaulle Airport. Running over some debris during take-off, puncturing a fuel tank. Causing a fire and causing F-BTSC to crash into a hotel killing all 100 passengers, Nine crew and four people in the hotel. Both British and French fleets were grounded for over a year. While the cause of the crash was determined.

A number of modifications were required to prevent a repeat of the accident before Concorde was allowed to return to passenger service. Rising maintenance costs and the slump in air travel post 9/11 led to Air France and British Airways simultaneously announced on the 10th April 2003 they would retire Concorde later that year.

Air France's final Paris to New York City flight on 30th May 2003. With a last flight on 27th June 2003 to deliver F-BVFC to retirement in Toulouse.

British Airways held a farewell tour of North America and a final New York to London flight. With a number of ferry flight to delivery aircraft to museums. The final Concorde flight was G-BOAF flying from Heathrow to Bristol, on 26 November 2003.

Where are they now
F-WTSS (001) at the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, Paris
G-BSST (002) at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton
G-AXDN (01) at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford
F-WTSA (02) at the Musée Delta, Paris
F-WTSB (201) at the Aeroscopia Museum, Toulouse
G-BBDG (202) at Brooklands Museum, Weybridge
F-BTSC (203) Crashed outside Paris, 25th July 2000
G-BOAC (204) at the Aviation Viewing Park, Manchester Airport
F-BVFA (205) at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington
G-BOAA (206) at the Museum of Flight in East Fortune, Edinburgh
F-BVFB (207) at Auto and Technik Museum, Sinsheim
G-BOAB (208) In storage at Heathrow Airport, London
F-BVFC (209) at the Aeroscopia Museum, Toulouse
G-BOAD (210) at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, New York
F-BVFD (211) Retired from service in 1982 and broken up in 1994
G-BOAE (212) at Grantley Adams Airport, Barbados
F-BTSD (213) at the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, Paris
G-BOAG (214) at the Museum of Flight, Seattle
F-BVFF (215) on display at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris
G-BOAF (216) at Aerospace Bristol

Legacy
Concorde may have been a technological success but was a commercial failure. The research, development and knowledge did however lay the foundation for Airbus. Now the main rival to Boeing.

The flight numbers BA1 and BA2 still live on with the flights from London City Airport to JFK using the much slower Airbus A318 'Baby Bus ‘, featuring 32 seats, all in business class.

The Concorde Room is used as the name of the top tier lounges for British Airways first class passengers at Heathrow Terminal 5 and JFK.

The Great British Design Quest in 2006, saw Concorde being announced as the winner. Over the Mini, Jaguar E-Type, Tube map and Supermarine Spitfire.

Supersonic passenger airline development did not end with Concorde and the Tu-144, many companies have tried to produce designs with varying degrees of success. In the business jet market, Aerion SBJ, SAI Quiet Supersonic Transport, Sukhoi-Gulfstream S-21 all failed to produce a commercial product but work continues on the Aerion AS2, Gulfstream X-54 and Spike S-512. For Airlines, Reaction Engines and Boom Technologies (Previously) both are attempting to build designs and get them into production.
posted by Z303 (45 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
I watched that last flight come in. Such a beautiful plane.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:20 AM on October 24


My grandmother’s house was in the flight path for Concorde. She used to go outside twice a day in nice weather to watch it pass overhead.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:31 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


I was in England in 1999 and heard the faint shriek of a roar over my head, looked up and I could swear I saw a triangle, way up there.

I would have loved to fly Concorde, it was just one of those things growing up in the 70s that was the coolest and most futuristic, before Star Wars existed. I know I glued together at least one Revell model, drew it on binder paper many times, and read about it in many library books. Sure, it was an environmental cancer fountain, but I still want to have done it.
posted by rhizome at 3:33 AM on October 24 [7 favorites]


Well done, this is a brilliant thread.
posted by nikaspark at 3:38 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Always though that the US should have bought one for Airforce One duties.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:50 AM on October 24


Like rhizome, I dreamed of flying in the Concorde in the 70's. I was totally obsessed. I even figured out how to make a paper airplane version (that never flew particularly well, but man, oh, man did it have FLAPS.).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:15 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Concorde was always sold to the world as the future, and it was, in that it was just another statement of grandeur for the 1% that we in the rest of the species are supposed to applaud from our place on the ground far below.

It's a great template for the Elon Musk era of manned space travel, albeit in which any hint of national cooperation as a socialist ideal has been wiped out in favor of the works of The Great Man.
posted by sonascope at 4:31 AM on October 24 [5 favorites]


It was a collaboration between the British and French governments championed by Tony Benn, the state using "the white heat of technology" to try to drive innovation. It has nothing to do with Elon Musk.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:03 AM on October 24 [11 favorites]


Yeah, this was very much national industries: let's keep attention-seeking stoner former-CEOs out of this.

Concorde was pretty, but too wasteful to live. And the noise was fucking unbelievable. They used to use one for touch-and-go landing training at Prestwick, and spending a day near (== a couple of miles away from) that thing was deafening.
posted by scruss at 5:38 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Excellent post!
posted by MrGuilt at 5:42 AM on October 24


Always though that the US should have bought one for Airforce One duties.

While big and sexy looking, there is surprisingly little room inside Concorde. Definitely not enough room to carry the number of people AF1 typically carries, nor does it have room for the offices, workspaces, and cargo space AF1 incorporates. Concorde is also relatively leaden compared to a 747 when it comes to emergency maneuvering. Speed is probably the only advantage Concorde would have over a 747.

There's also the political optics of POTUS being carted around in a non-USA-built plane to consider.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:56 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


I will always regret getting hung up in traffic and missing G-BOAG touching down at Boeing Field. I arrived at the end of the taxiing rollup to the parking lot at MoF, pilot hanging out the window and waving to a cheering crowd.
posted by mwhybark at 6:21 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Of course the irony is that Seattle's historic recession in the 1970s is often credited to the cancellation of the Boeing STS project. I am not certain how accurate that is but it is certainly part of the city's folklore.
posted by mwhybark at 6:23 AM on October 24


A recent 99% Invisible podcast ties together the Seattle Supersonics and Oklahoma Thunder basketball teams, testing sonic booms on people, some reasons why there wasn't a US SST and the Oklahoma Land Rush. Their shows are usually good; this one's exceptional.
posted by Standeck at 6:26 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


This is a fantastic post and I have flagged it as such but how could you forget THE GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME?
posted by bondcliff at 6:41 AM on October 24 [6 favorites]


Like many folks here, I grew up dreaming of flying in aN SST. The old man was Air Force so sonic booms were just part of the scenery.
I am reminded of an old science fiction story where the protagonist wakes up in a future full of bombast and fakery. Much like the US today.
The future ain't what it used to be.
Also, sonascope, I agree.
posted by evilDoug at 6:55 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Back in the day, every Saturday morning my father and I would take my brother down to Marine Park in Brooklyn for his Little League game. The park is right on Jamaica Bay, across from JFK, and there would always be a Concorde taking off during the game. You could tell just by the sound - it was a lot louder than the other jets - and it was always something to watch.
posted by adamg at 7:11 AM on October 24


I only saw it in flight once; at the opening of the Scottish parliament, it flew over in close formation with the Red Arrows. We'd no idea it was coming, so it made quite an impact on us! Shortly after that, a friend of mine spent his entire savings account to fly on it one-way to New York. I told him he was mad, but I can't say I wouldn't have done the same if I'd had the money.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:37 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Every few years there's a new optimistic article about how supersonic flight might be making a comeback. Some combination of new designs that limit the noise, are more efficient, etc. Here's one example from January this year, Supersonic jets may be about to make a comeback.
posted by Nelson at 8:04 AM on October 24


After doing a bit of googling around I found that the British Airways Concorde carried about 2.5 million passengers supersonically with 113 fatalities. For contrast the A380 has carried 250 million passengers with 0 fatalities. The Concorde is a pretty plane and it's ability to go supersonic is really sexy but the Rube Goldberg failure that caused the crash in 2000 doesn't inspire confidence in the safety of it's design.
posted by rdr at 8:12 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Yesterday, I noticed that the airline reservation system that I work on still has references to "Supersonic" booking codes and travel-preferences in its documentation -- presently unusable, but waiting there just in case it ever becomes a thing again.
posted by schmod at 8:20 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


There's a new book out Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde - "This stylishly illustrated book looks back at the future of air travel and is as sleek and elegant as the Concorde aircraft it celebrates."
[via boingboing]
posted by ShooBoo at 8:52 AM on October 24


There's also the NASA X-59 - intended to study methods of 'shaping' the shock waves to avoid the objectionable sonic booms that kept the Concorde from flying supersonic over populated areas.
posted by cfraenkel at 8:56 AM on October 24


Awesome post. I enjoy going down aviation rabbitholes on youtube. I don't know why it's never occurred to me to do that for the Concorde. This post is fixing that in a real hurry!

"At this point, Brian Trubshaw decided to turn a high speed taxi run into a first flight.""

The background yelling is pretty good.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:59 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


My grandparents lived on the JFK approach path. I remember it being so much louder than all the rest of the planes. And the bent beak look was awesome. In... '84, maybe?... I arrived into JFK on a 747 and was amazed out how small the Concorde was, looking down on out from the windows of the 747.
posted by straw at 11:55 AM on October 24


There's also the political optics of POTUS being carted around in a non-USA-built plane to consider.

Owing to one half of its provenance, it would have been a particularly awkward conveyance circa “Freedom Fries.”

But I had no idea that astronomers chased the 1973 solar eclipse with the Concorde. That’s...awesome.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:12 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]


Just before it was retired, I was at an open-air screening of The Fifth Element in Battersea Park. It was early evening and dusky, and about 30 minutes into the film there was this giant roaring noise from behind the audience, and as everyone turned away from the screen to see what it was, it turned out to be a Concorde *really*low* on final for, I guess, Heathrow. It went straight over the top of the screen. The euphoric cheer from everyone there was amazing. Place went batshit.

Phil Collins using the Concorde to play both Live Aid concerts remains pretty badass too, tbh.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 12:15 PM on October 24 [7 favorites]


An interesting point to note is that the requirements for Concorde reflect the world of civil aviation in the early 1960s. Compared to other airliners of that era (BAC VC-10, Boeing 707, Convair 880 ...) it wasn't ridiculously thirsty or noisy — they were all a bit shit back then, by modern standards!

Concorde had the supreme bad luck to go into production in the mid-1970s, right after the 1974 OPEC oil crisis, when the price of fuel quadrupled, and to be competing with the (unexpected — it was originally expected to sell as a subsonic freighter in a world of passenger SSTs) Boeing 747, which burned the same amount of fuel initially (early 747 engines were a bit shit, too) but could carry four times as many passengers, many of them traveling on economy tickets which barely existed back when the specifications for Concorde were being drawn up.

Concorde B would have been very interesting if it had flown (due off the production line by 1980); a mixture of upgrades meant it would go supersonic without afterburner (read: much quieter at take-off and landing), and have the range to go LAX-Tokyo with only one fueling stop en route (original Concorde couldn't do that). That's tantalizingly close to being able to break the trans-Pacific-in-a-day problem which stands to this time, or to being able to do London-Sydney in 12 hours with one refueling stop (which would have eaten the lunch of the business class seats on the 747s serving that route — 24 hours with 90 minutes in Hong Kong or Singapore for refueling).

And a successful Concorde B would have opened the door to further innovation in the field, like more efficient engines and wide body layouts.

The problem with Concorde was always that it was a Version 1.0 of the concept, took too long to come to market, and was never developed into something useable. But if the fuel efficiency/range had been incrementally improved by progressive iterative development the way subsonic jets improved from 1970-2010, we might at this point have "reasonable" supersonic passenger travel at premium economy prices (not bargain basement, but not outrageous either) on the long-haul routes that benefit from it (intercontinental ones).
posted by cstross at 12:44 PM on October 24 [8 favorites]


PS: My preceding comment was written under the influence of heavy west-to-east jet lag. Just a coincidence: make of it what you will. (Crawls back into bed.)
posted by cstross at 12:51 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]


After doing a bit of googling around I found that the British Airways Concorde carried about 2.5 million passengers supersonically with 113 fatalities. For contrast the A380 has carried 250 million passengers with 0 fatalities

The A380 has almost certainly flown more passenger miles but Concorde flew commercially for 27 years compared to only 11 for the A380. A single A380 accident could add 400-500 fatalities to its record.

Regardless flying either would be statistically safer than my commute home tonight.
posted by nathan_teske at 1:38 PM on October 24 [4 favorites]


Z303; what a exceptional post. I've been reading lately about the supersonic North American XB-70. My dad was one of (many) engineers who designed the General Electric engines. After the XB-70 was cancelled he was supposed to work on the engines for the Boeing SST project, but that was cancelled too. After that, he left General Electric for a more stable job.
posted by codex99 at 1:41 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]


how could you forget THE GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME?
I've never actually seen The Concorde ... Airport '79. I'm currently in the process of correcting that hole in my cultural education.

codex99; Hopefully I'll get get over to visit the remaining XB-70 at some point. I saw the M-21/D-21 last year
posted by Z303 at 2:03 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]


Supersonic, pshaw... Bring on the sub-orbitals!
posted by mikelieman at 2:25 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Z303; I live just an hour away from the Air Force Museum, so if your ever over this way let me know. The XB-70 in person is a monster - it literally dwarfs everything displayed around it. The entire museum is unbelievable.
posted by codex99 at 3:46 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]


The brother of a friend of mine is a retired lawyer, who was for many years a nauseatingly well-paid lawyer (single illustration: one year his Christmas bonus at work exceeded my friend’s salary for the same year). The final flight mentioned on the FPP? He was one of the passengers. He wanted to be able to say he had been on the last Concorde commercial flight, and the ticket price was fairly trivial for him, so why not?

Always remember that the 1% are packed with essential nutrients.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:10 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Great post! SSTs in general and of course the Concorde have always fascinated me. I would loved to have flown on it but couldn’t justify the cost. I grew up in the 1960s during the space race and supersonic passenger flights seemed a logical step on the way to commercial space flight. Needless to say none of that worked out the way it was supposed to. Interestingly, while New Yorker were protesting the Concorde, there were some people in my hometown of Augusta Georgia who proposed upgrading our airport to allow the plane to land here, as our airport is in a largely industrial area where noise would not be a big issue. It never got very far, but a few old-timers remember it.

As chance would have it tonight’s Nova is about SSTs, focusing on the Concorde.
posted by TedW at 7:18 PM on October 24


> There's also the political optics of POTUS being carted around in a non-USA-built plane to consider.

Plus you want oversight over every part of the fabrication and operation of Air Force One.

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/06/09/french_spied_concorde_passengers/

posted by sebastienbailard at 9:24 PM on October 24


I'm currently in the process of correcting that hole in my cultural education.

I made a type, actually. I think I said the movie was good but what I meant to say was that it was terrible. I mean I assume it is. I saw it in 1979 when I was 9 years old and thought it was amazing. Based on the trailer I just watched I'm, um, not so sure.
posted by bondcliff at 7:41 AM on October 25


After doing a bit of googling around I found that the British Airways Concorde carried about 2.5 million passengers supersonically with 113 fatalities. For contrast the A380 has carried 250 million passengers with 0 fatalities. The Concorde is a pretty plane and it's ability to go supersonic is really sexy but the Rube Goldberg failure that caused the crash in 2000 doesn't inspire confidence in the safety of it's design.

I haven't flown in the King of All the Airbuses, but I've flown in a bunch of smaller ones, and I would take a ride on a hypothetical operational Concorde in a hot minute. First of all, risk is pretty hard to estimate based on a single incident but clearly low. Second: supersonic and all first class. I still regret not taking a $300 supersonic ride when Concorde was at Oshkosh one year, but there are lots of decisions I'd make differently with perfect foresight.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:13 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]


Oh, and in re the Air Force Museum, it is an amazing place. If you're an enthusiast you should allow multiple days for a visit. I found out that volunteers have a day a year when they have special access--the guy I talked to said he'd been in the cockpit of the XB-70 during one of these days (I forget what he called them).

I briefly considered whether I could work out the logistics to travel from Minnesota often enough to become a volunteer. It became clear that it would not be ... compatible ... with life as a spouse and parent. I envy codex99's proximity, though I suppose I'd become jaded eventually.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:19 AM on October 25


I made a type, actually. I think I said the movie was good but what I meant to say was that it was terrible.
Don't worry I was in the mood for a cheesy film. It did not disappoint.
posted by Z303 at 3:14 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]


I'm now on day two of poking through the links. I'm quite enjoying this post.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:47 PM on October 25


I flew Concorde from Toronto to London in the mid 1990s as part of a big family splurge due to various significant birthdays coinciding.. At that point in my life, I'd become a regular transatlantic flyer for my job, so it was a treat especiale to make the hop in half the time. And the experience was really as wonderful as you might think. The effusive hype on the videos shot when Concorde was still going? Not effusive hype. It was like that.

I didn't get what a friend got on his LHR-JFK jaunt - an engine out in supersonic cruise. If you look on the flight safety card, you'll see that this is really rather different from your normal in-flight abnormal event: there is a rapid spiralling downstairs to a level and speed where the journey can be completed on three donks. It looks dramatic, and I have his assurance that it felt even more so.
posted by Devonian at 6:04 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]


That is awesome, and thank you for waiting until we all got our squee out so that it wasn't like eating in front of the hungry people.
posted by rhizome at 7:22 PM on October 26


I've never actually seen The Concorde ... Airport '79. I'm currently in the process of correcting that hole in my cultural education.

Joe Patroni had a very interesting airline career. There was debate about him, being a mechanic, trying to taxi a stuck 707 in Airport and he ended up being a Concorde captain.
posted by hwyengr at 8:25 PM on October 28 [3 favorites]


« Older Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's: Interview   |   It can be the most exquisite, beautiful thing Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.