caviar at mach 2 no more
October 23, 2003 11:00 PM   Subscribe

Concorde ends today. So what will it take to go commercially supersonic again?
posted by casarkos (31 comments total)
[This is sad]
posted by dg at 11:38 PM on October 23, 2003

[agreed, dg]
posted by interrobang at 11:58 PM on October 23, 2003

I'd hate to have this derailed so early, but I'd like to point out that this is not filepile. So can we please ixnay on the ilepilefay. We don't need any more injokes.

Getting back on topic...

It's too bad about the Concorde. One of my earlier child memories involves my time at a summer daycamp. We were playing a "Win, Lose, or Draw" type game on a big board on stage, and I remember it was my turn. Right as I got up, there was a mighty, mighty roar. Everyone looked up, and right there, not too high up, the Concorde flew over on its approach to Pearson Intl. The Concorde didn't come to Toronto often, and to be there right underneath it as it landed... that was quite the bit of luck. And let me tell you, that thing was LOUD.

It's too bad it won't be making those fly-bys anymore.
posted by mkn at 12:25 AM on October 24, 2003

A sad day indeed. Recording of the final BA001 ATC departure from LHR
posted by chill at 1:46 AM on October 24, 2003

Didn't you guys hear? One crashed. If another one crashed, that would be two crashes.
posted by The God Complex at 1:50 AM on October 24, 2003

Concorde history, photo gallery, and intros and technical specs from British Airways, Janes, CNN and PBS. Also, Black and White pics, a personal account and a BBC feature about the crash.
posted by walrus at 2:08 AM on October 24, 2003

It's a sad day.

I flew on the Concorde in January 1993, from Paris to New York. It was quite a ride. The vapour from the wings on takeoff was amazing, and a little scary to watch.

At 60,000 ft, the sky went purple and I could see stars. The curvature of the earth was easy to see. When it came time to drop out of supersonic flight, I was pushed forward in my seat because the force was so strong.

We made to New York in 2 and a half hours, thanks to a strong tailwind.

I must dig out the photos I took of the trip and put them on my site.
posted by tomcosgrave at 3:08 AM on October 24, 2003

By the way, in relation to the thread title. I had some caviar at Mach 2! Eugh!

It's not just caviar - it's airline food caviar. It was awful, and so was the fois gras!
posted by tomcosgrave at 3:10 AM on October 24, 2003

> what will it take to go commercially supersonic again?

Another era of so-cheap-it-might-as-well-be-free fuel.
posted by jfuller at 4:46 AM on October 24, 2003

So what will it take to go commercially supersonic again?

A government that listens to private enterprise?

Listening to talk radio and TV in the UK this morning, I was interested to read how many people thought that the current Labour government was so 'unpatriotic' in not letting Concorde got to the highest bidder. Turns out that British Airways bought the Concorde fleet from the taxpayer for £2...

Well, I'd pay £2 to have em back and sell em off to someone who could keep this beauty flying...
posted by mattr at 5:13 AM on October 24, 2003

Somehow I doubt that Richard Branson fabricated the whole clause in the contract thing, so I wonder where it came from or went to?
posted by twine42 at 6:01 AM on October 24, 2003

So what will it take to go commercially supersonic again?

Lots and lots of investment. Considering the only experiment just failed due to lack of demand, investors will not be lining up in the near future.

A government that listens to private enterprise?

Well, if someone can prove the clause is there, then fine, if they can't then the government is listening to private enterprise by not getting involved in how they deal with their private assets. Which is what investors in this country repeatedly ask for.

For the record I believe the government should do more to interfere with markets where this is appropriate and with proper regard for the operations of the particular market.
posted by biffa at 6:37 AM on October 24, 2003

This Economist article adds weight to the suggestion that Branson's bid was simply bravado.
posted by chill at 6:56 AM on October 24, 2003

An amazing plane, and I'm sorry to see it go. They were talking about this on Five Live this morning, giving pre-warnings about traffic stopping near London just to watch the big bird fly over for the last time. The "license to fly" (someone tell me what it's really called!), is also being revoked for the Concorde aircraft at the end of October, so it would have to be re-approved if some other airline wanted to buy it.
posted by BigCalm at 7:02 AM on October 24, 2003

So what will it take to go commercially supersonic again?

Transpacific range. If you look at the whole trip, taking an SST transatlantic doesn't save that much time. You still have to spend an hour getting to the airport, an hour or two waiting at the airport and checking in, 2.5 instead of 7 hours flying, another hour clearing customs if they're busy, and another hour back from the airport. The trip still eats your whole day, and the four hours you save cost you the earth. If you have to transfer to get onto your transatlantic flight, add in another couple of hours and the relative time savings drop further.

But transpacific could turn a 15 hour flight into a 5 hour flight, turning what I assume must be not-quite-nightmarish into something like a transcontinental flight.

Which isn't to say that the Concorde isn't a glorious aircraft.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:10 AM on October 24, 2003

It is sad to see cool technology get put away, but it was cool technology that didn't actually solve a problem. Or at least a problem enough people had to make it profitable.

I still don't understand why they didn't just raise the fares to the level of profitability, especially after it was clear it had become a rich person's thing. But I don't know much about economics.
posted by tommasz at 7:49 AM on October 24, 2003

There are two issues with Concorde. One is the age of the airplane, and the other is the environmental impact of the sonic booms. Economics is not really a problem if you were somehow able to manufacture a new SST today - there would be a market for the service if it went more places (Asia especially).

A small, aging fleet like Concorde's becomes a maintenance nightmare. There are entire industries making spares and supplies for 767's and Airbuses and so forth, while Concorde parts were being cannibalized from unused aircraft; and there are thousands of people training to maintain commercial airliners, whereas only a few people knew the supersonic plane and it was hardly worth choosing as a career option. (If any of this reminds you of the Space Shuttle, it's not a coincidence.)

The only reason that sonic booms weren't more of a political problem than they were up til now is that the supersonic service never really expanded to where proponents thought it would. (Although to some extent that is chicken and egg; in the late 70's and 80's, people passed on SST work rather than deal with the controversy.) If SST's to major capitals took off on the hour using Concorde style technology, there'd be a fearsome Boom Backlash.

What is needed is a technology that allows a larger aircraft to travel farther above Mach 1 (so Asia is easy), *and* to travel farther subsonic in a fuel efficient way, so that the plane can get in and out of boom-shy cities like Washington DC and San Francisco and Amsterdam etc, fly at 0.8M to a designated Mach Transition area, "boom" there, fly to their destination, "deboom" in another Mach TA, then fly the subsonic leg to destination.

Alternatively, a "shaped boom" may be possible, in which case the transition could occur over Silver Spring and not tinkle the teacups.

If they solve these issues, supersonic transport is definitely going to happen, because people want to get where they're going NOW.
posted by anser at 8:31 AM on October 24, 2003

tommasz: It is sad to see cool technology get put away, but it was cool technology that didn't actually solve a problem. Or at least a problem enough people had to make it profitable.

And not just cool tech, tommasz - incredibly beautiful design. To me, the Concorde remains one of the - if not the - most perfect symbol of the dear departed twentieth century: speed, speed, speed, speed, occasionally interrupted with moments of perfect beauty. Concorde's physical shape and presence were unmatched when it began flying, and they are unmatched, at least in the skies, now. I'm going to miss them.
posted by JollyWanker at 8:54 AM on October 24, 2003

Sad? What's the harm, really. We should just slow-the-hell-down a little anyway. What a good place to start. Its a good message.
posted by protocool at 9:33 AM on October 24, 2003

In my ideal world, the Concorde would exist alongside transatlantic ocean liners, passenger trains across the USA, and trolleys throughout the cities. Of course, I have an incapacitating early-to-mid 20th century fetish.
posted by keswick at 10:14 AM on October 24, 2003

I'm not that saddened either. As with the space program, you have to wonder whether there's any need for it, any true demand, or if it's just an idea that appeals to us. I understand if the Concorde somehow makes your human spirit soar. I guess that's why people go to NASCAR, too. Yeah, it's frickin' cool, but I'm not gripping my desk wondering "what's it going to take to bring commercial supersnoic flight back to this world we live in." As I age, I have more appreciation for doing things the least costly, most efficient, quietest way possible. Why aren't we champing at the bit for a transcontinental, solar-powered commuter plane?
posted by scarabic at 12:08 PM on October 24, 2003

commercial supersnoic flight

That's when you turn the crank on the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine fast enough that the shaved ice spewing out generates enough thrust to propel you skywards.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:25 PM on October 24, 2003

(not picking on, just appreciating the beauty of)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:26 PM on October 24, 2003

> Why aren't we champing at the bit for a transcontinental,
> solar-powered commuter plane?

I am chomping at the bit for a population that's content to stay where it is.
posted by jfuller at 12:43 PM on October 24, 2003

Where's my flying car? It's 2003. I want my damn flying car. And a Dick Tracy watch.

This may be stupid question time but what the hey. Was there talk of Concorde getting mothballed prior to September Eleventh? Is the real problem the added wait time it takes to go through security and customs and check baggage and what have you? The added time constraint makes the Concorde no different from any regular (less expensive) flight, doesn't it? It may shave four hours off the flight time, but all other things being equal that's just not worth it. With added security concerns on both sides of the Atlantic, and the fact a supersonic jet could potentially do MORE damage to a building, could this be the real reason why it's happening? I mean not officially, but indirectly, due to cause and effect?

If there was no talk of killing Concorde prior to 9/11/01, this could mean had the terrorists not attacked the WTC & Pentagon, perhaps the Concorde would still be flying, which means it's the terrorists fault, which means of course that they already won and all that.

Or have I seen too many episodes of Connections?
posted by ZachsMind at 1:02 PM on October 24, 2003

ZachsMind: I seem to recall talk of scrapping the Concorde after the 2000 crash in France.
posted by arto at 2:06 PM on October 24, 2003

I want tubes crisscrossing the globe, a la Futurama (maybe with hot wheels–style loop-the-loops over the oceans)

And if the Concorde hadn't been so expensive, it would still be flying--$11,000 roundtrip!?! (they could have priced it below cost as a loss leader and gotten people hooked on it)
posted by amberglow at 7:23 PM on October 24, 2003

I really do feel great sadness at Concordes passing. As a tub banging patriotic Brit I guess it was the last time Britain produced a true engineering marvel (although I guess those dodgy Frenchies helped a bit...). In many ways Concorde was the anglo-french space shuttle.

I guess I'm probably more moved by the lack of development since Concorde's inception - a plane now obsolete still the fastest commerciall vehicle ever produced. I get a terrible, and no doubt entirely melodramatic, sense of slippage and entropy - in this small way we have regressed rather than developed. It sort of makes me wonder if one day the ancient Romans looked round and said - 'Hey how come no-one makes those great chariots anymore'.
posted by prentiz at 8:01 PM on October 24, 2003

Arto, oh yeah well, there was that yah. So I guess cuz of one crash after over thirty years of no crashes, had there been no Nine Eleven, sure the Concorde woulda been scrapped anyway. Yeah you're right. Public fear and the present climate, the fact other airlines have suffered and struggled and filed for bankrupcy, these had nothing to do with it. I stand corrected.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:21 PM on October 24, 2003

So what will it take to go commercially supersonic again?

Reunite J.J. Fad.
posted by at 8:08 AM on October 25, 2003

not just cool tech, tommasz - incredibly beautiful design.
The Concorde is one of those rare animals - a 20 plus year-old design that looks as sexy today as it did the day it came off the drawing board. Every time I see this thing landing on TV, I get a shiver up my spine, even though it looks at its worst in that attitude. Being something of a speed freak, the knowledge that I could, if I ever won the lottery, travel at twice the speed of sound was nice. The world is gradually losing all the things that make us go "wow" and this is just another one. It is not about saving four hours - it is about pushing the envelope to do that little bit more than we have to and to develop our knowledge and our skills. That is what we do, but we seem to be subjugating our drive to excel in these modern times.

Again, [this is sad]
posted by dg at 2:48 PM on October 26, 2003

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