|Manufacturer:||BAC (now BAE Systems) and Aérospatiale (now EADS)|
|First flight:||2 March 1969|
|Introduction into Service:||21 January 1976|
|Retired:||26 November 2003 (27 years)|
Cruise speed of Mach 2.02 (1,330 mph) with a maximum cruise altitude of 60,000 feet.
As the world’s very first supersonic airliner, built to be capable of cruising at over twice the speed of sound and with only 14 aircraft ever entering airline service, the whole project was a very substantial economic loss. Only British Airways (the successor to BOAC) and Air France, both airlines heavily subsidised by their governments, took up their orders of only seven aircraft each, with the two governments taking a cut of any profits made.
Concorde is an icon of aviation history, and is unique for being known as "Concorde" rather than "the Concorde" or "a Concorde".
The aircraft name was initially "Concorde" in Britain with the French spelling, but was officially changed to "Concord" by Harold Macmillan because he was upset by something de Gaulle had said. But at the French roll-out in 1967 at Toulouse, the Labour government announced that the spelling would revert to "Concorde."
Construction of two prototypes began in February 1965:
001, built by Aerospatiale at Toulouse, and
002, by BAC at Filton, Bristol.
001 made its first test flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969, piloted by Andre Turcat, and first went supersonic 7 months later. The BAC Concorde first flew from Filton on 9 April 1969, piloted by the late Brian Trubshaw, and landed at RAF Fairford where it remained for development flying.
A note here on the aircraft construction numbers -
• 001, 002 – were the first prototypes (F, GB)
• 01, 02 – the pre-production aircraft (GB, F) – renamed 101, 102
• 1, 2 – first production aircraft (F, GB) – renamed 201, 202
• 3, 4 – first production for airline service (F, GB) –
3 was renamed 203 (F-BTSC, later crashed) and
4 was renamed 204 (G-BOAC).
After that they took turns, with the French aircraft always first:
• 205 was F-BVFA
• 206 was G-BOAA (actually the first aircraft that BA received)
• 207 and so on up to -
• 216: G-BOAF (which is on display at Filton).
The testing of Concorde set records that have never been broken:
• the two prototype, two pre-production and first two production aircraft (none of these six aircraft was ever destined for service) together flew well over 5,000 hours, over 2,000 of which were supersonic.
• The cost of one aircraft at 1977 prices was given as £23 million.
• The overall development cost was 6 times the projected amount.
In those early days many of the world’s major airlines took out options (places in the queue) on Concordes and the future seemed assured, but a combination of factors led to a tidal wave of cancellations due to:
• the 1973 oil crisis
• the acute financial difficulties of many airlines
• a spectacular crash of the competing Tupolev Tu-144 Concordski
• environmental concerns
The environmental factors were the sonic boom, takeoff-noise, fuel consumption and pollution. The early engines of the first four Concordes trailed heavy black smoke on take off, making photos the press and TV loved to keep using even after the much cleaner, production aircraft were flying.
Because Concorde’s engines were so inefficient at low speeds, the aircraft would burn 2 tonnes of fuel just taxiing out to take off. So, after landing, only the two outer engines were used to taxi back to the passenger terminal, saving half the fuel. This was possible after landing because the aircraft was so much lighter by then. But, when propelling Concorde at its design speed of Mach 2, it was the world's most efficient jet engine.
It’s generally known that Concorde heated up and expanded when it flew supersonically. In fact, the length of the aircraft increased by nearly a foot and a gap opened up on the flight deck between the flight engineer's console and the bulkhead. On all Concordes that had a supersonic retirement flight, the flight engineers placed their hats in this gap before the aeroplane cooled down, where they remain trapped to this day.
Concorde had a high takeoff speed of over 200 mph and needed exceptional brakes. In the case of an aborted take off, the brakes could bring the 185 ton Concorde travelling at 190 mph to a stop within a mile. After this, though, the brakes would be glowing dull red hot and need several hours to cool before being fit for flight again. The landing speed was high, too, at 185 mph.
The black moment in Concorde’s career came on 25 July 2000, when an Air France Concorde crashed in Gonesse, in France, killing all 100 passengers and nine crew on board the flight and four people on the ground. The particular aircraft (F-BTSC) was a sister-ship to our own Manchester G-BOAC, as both were the first production aircraft off their own country’s production lines. It was Concorde’s only fatal accident.
The crash was caused by a strip of metal, part of a thrust reverser, that fell off a DC-10 that had taken off about four minutes earlier. This punctured the right front tyre on the left main wheel bogie. The tyre exploded and a piece of rubber hit the fuel tank. This caused a major fuel leak from the tank, which then ignited due to damaged wiring which was sparking. The crew shut down engine number 2 in response to a fire warning but engine number 1 was surging and producing little power, so the aircraft was unable to gain height or speed. It entered a rapid pitch-up then a violent descent, rolling to the left, then crashed into the Hotelissimo Hotel in Gonesse.
All Concordes were grounded while the accident was investigated and modifications made, in particular fitting a Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks and developing special burst-resistant tyres.
After test flights, the first BA passenger flight took place on 11 September 2001, and was actually in the air during the attacks on the twin towers. But it wasn’t a revenue flight as all the passengers were BA employees. Normal commercial operations resumed on 7 November 2001.
Most were pleased to see Concorde back in service, but it wasn’t to last. On 10 April 2003, Air France and British Airways simultaneously announced that they would retire Concorde later that year. They said it was because of low passenger numbers following the Paris crash, the slump in air travel following the September 11 attacks and rising maintenance costs.
G-BOAG made a final appearance at Manchester on 22 October 2003, having flown up from Heathrow for the day. That aircraft is now on permanent display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
G-BOAC, the flagship aircraft now permanently on show at Manchester, made its final flight from Heathrow to Manchester just 9 days later, on 31 October 2003. It first flew on 27 February 1975, so it had a life of 28½ years. During that time it flew a total of 22,260 hours, which means it spent just over 2½ years actually in the sky.
On 1 September 1975, G-BOAC
became the first aircraft to make four Atlantic crossings in one day. It
flew between London and Gander, Newfoundland
G-BOAC was the first Concorde in
commercial service to land in the US, at Washington Dulles on 24 May 1976
On 19 December 1985, G-BOAC
travelled at 1,488 mph, the highest recorded ground speed for a commercial
To mark 10 years in service, four
British Airways Concordes – including G-BOAC – flew in formation over the
G-BOAC’s final arrival at Manchester was the flight from Heathrow to her new home on 31 October 2003.