Was the Concorde ahead of its time?

Jan. 1, 2004
Needless to say, I didn't bid on any of the Concorde stuff and I doubt that my grandchildren will regard that as a major mistake.

Last November, the flying career of the Aerospatiale-British Aircraft Corp. Concorde supersonic transport (SST) came to an end.

I was reminded of this when I received via e-mail a digital photo of British Airways aircraft G-BOAD being transported somewhat ignominiously on a barge from New York's JFK airport up the Hudson River to its final resting-place on the Intrepid aircraft carrier that is permanently moored as a museum on New York's West Side.

The photo came from an old friend, Stan Braverman, who lives in an apartment in Battery Park City with an expansive view of the Hudson River and the New York Harbor. Knowing full well of my interest in matters technological, Stan thought I'd be interested in the photo for my archives and he was, of course, right. Neither Stan nor I have ever had the ready cash to fly on the Concorde but we've heard the plane make its noisy departure from JFK airport many times. Stan and I plan to pay our respects to G-BOAD on my next visit to the Big Apple.

Other than the usual cargo of publicity-hogging would-be celebrities and pseudo captains of industry who could not afford their very own Gulfstreams, I didn't know very many Concorde trippers. I did vicariously enjoy a Concorde trip when my very good friend Bill Michie and his wife Judy took a cross-Atlantic trip on the occasion of Bill's retirement after many years as a British Member of Parliament. Formerly a union electrician, Bill had the good fortune to work on the electrics of one of the early Concordes back in the '60s. Bill and Judy not only got the full celebrity treatment but they also got a guided tour of the cockpit. Bill was—and is—a supporter of the technology that has been developed as a result of the Concorde experience.

As a Brit by origin but a Yank by choice, I have ambivalent feelings about the Concorde. On the one hand, I'm proud that my country of birth, albeit with former archenemy France, could have developed the technology—in the early 1960s, yet—that produced a plane that could safely fly at heights of 60,000 ft (that's more than 11 miles above Earth) and cruise at speeds of Mach 2.04 (that's more than twice the speed of sound or better than 1350 mph). On the other hand, the Boeing 747 did far more for public transportation than the Concorde ever did.

And not only that, the Concorde was generally well-behaved, until the French aircraft F-BTSC crashed during takeoff from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport on July 26, 2000. Subsequent investigation of the crash found that a lump of titanium fell onto the runway from an earlier Continental Airline DC-10 and punctured the tires of the Concorde as it took off after the Continental plane. So the crash was not due to a design defect or a component flaw in the aircraft.

The upshot of that incident was that after having been investigated with a fine-tooth comb, burst-resistant tires were developed. Unfortunately, the crash resulted in even lower seat occupancies on the Concordes and a decision was made to withdraw the planes from service in April of 2003. Subsequently, the British Airways aircraft received several bids from a passel of near-criminal businessmen. Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur who created Virgin Airlines after a meteoric career in the British music industry, offered one-pound sterling for a Concorde, later allegedly upping the ante to more than £150 million for a single aircraft.

If you had been in London last December 1, you could have attended Bonham's auction and you could have purchased such Concorde tschotchkes as a fuel relief valve that fetched £700 or a Concorde tail cone that was hammered down for £320,000. No home should be without one. Needless to say, I didn't bid on any of the Concorde stuff and I doubt that my grandchildren will regard that as a major mistake.

But, ta-ta Concorde, thanks for making the world a more exciting place when you boomed sonically overhead out of sight but not out of mind.

About the Author

Jeffrey Bairstow | Contributing Editor

Jeffrey Bairstow is a Contributing Editor for Laser Focus World; he previously served as Group Editorial Director.

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