In order to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, Concorde was developed to have the greatest supersonic range of any aircraft. This was achieved by a combination of engines which were highly efficient at supersonic speeds, a slender fuselage with high fineness ratio, and a complex wing shape for a high lift to drag ratio. This also required carrying only a modest payload and a high fuel capacity, and the aircraft was trimmed with precision to avoid unnecessary drag.
The retired turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner or supersonic transport (SST) is one of only two SSTs to have entered commercial service; the other was the Tupolev Tu-144.
Concorde was jointly developed and produced by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty.
First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued commercial flights for 27 years.
A total of 20 aircraft were built in France and the United Kingdom; six of these were prototypes and development aircraft.
Seven each were delivered to Air France and British Airways. Concorde's name reflects the development agreement between the United Kingdom and France. In the UK, any or all of the type—unusually for an aircraft—are known simply as "Concorde", without an article. Reflecting the treaty between the British and French governments which led to Concorde's construction, the name Concorde is from the French word concorde, which has an English equivalent, concord. Both words mean agreement, harmony or union.
Concorde's drooping nose, developed by Marshall Aerospace, enabled the aircraft to switch between being streamlined to reduce drag and achieve optimum aerodynamic efficiency, and not obstructing the pilot's view during taxi, takeoff, and landing operations.
Air compression on the outer surfaces caused the cabin to heat up during flight. Every surface, such as windows and panels, was warm to the touch by end of the flight.
Due to the high speeds at which Concorde travelled, large forces were applied to the aircraft's structure during banks and turns. This caused twisting and the distortion of the aircraft’s structure.
By around 1981 in the UK, the future for Concorde looked bleak. The British government had lost money operating Concorde every year, and moves were afoot to cancel the service entirely. In 1983, BA's managing director, Sir John King, convinced the government to sell the aircraft outright to British Airways for £16.5 million plus the first year’s profits.
The Air France Flight 4590 crash
Air France Flight 4590 was a Concorde flight operated by Air France which was scheduled to fly from Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris, to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. On 25 July 2000, it crashed into a hotel in Gonesse, France. All one hundred passengers and nine crew members on board the flight died. On the ground, four people were killed and one critically injured.
A combo of photographs taken on July 25, 2000 in Roissy-en-France near Paris shows the Air France supersonic airliner Concorde's crash after it took off from Roissy Airport. Pic/AFP
The flight was chartered by German company Peter Deilmann Cruises; the passengers were on their way to board the cruise ship MS Deutschland in New York City for a 16-day cruise to Manta, Ecuador. This was the only fatal Concorde accident during its 27-year operational history. It was the beginning of the end for Concorde as an airliner; the type was retired three years later.
A file picture taken on July 26, 2000 in Gonesse, northern Paris, shows part of the nose cone after an Air France Concorde crashed during take-off killing 113 people. Pic/AFP
A French court found Continental Airlines 'criminally responsible', on December 6, 2010, for the deadly 2000 Concorde crash, ruling it was caused by a piece of metal left on the runway by one of the US carrier's jets.
On 10 April 2003, Air France and British Airways simultaneously announced that they would retire Concorde later that year. They cited low passenger numbers following the 25 July 2000 crash, the slump in air travel following the September 11, 2001 attacks, and rising maintenance costs.
Although Concorde was technologically advanced when introduced in the 1970s, 30 years later, its analogue cockpit was dated. There had been little commercial pressure to upgrade Concorde due to a lack of competing aircraft, unlike other airliners of the same era such as the Boeing 747.
By its retirement, it was the last aircraft in British Airways' fleet that had a flight engineer; other aircraft, such as the modernised 747-400, had eliminated the role.
On 11 April 2003, Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson announced that the company was interested in purchasing British Airways’ Concorde fleet for their nominal original price of £1 (US$1.57 in April 2003) each.
Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson. Pic: AFP
British Airways dismissed the idea, prompting Virgin to increase their offer to £1 million each.
Branson claimed that when BA was privatised, a clause in the agreement required them to allow another British airline to operate Concorde if BA ceased to do so, but the Government denied the existence of such a clause.
In October 2003, Branson wrote in The Economist that his final offer was "over £5 million" and that he had intended to operate the fleet "for many years to come". The chances for keeping Concorde in service were stifled by Airbus's lack of support for continued maintenance.
Concorde pioneered the following technologies:
For high speed and optimisation of flight:
>>Double delta (ogee/ogival) shaped wings
>>Variable engine air intake system controlled by digital computers
>>Thrust-by-wire engines, predecessor of today's FADEC-controlled engines
>>Droop-nose section for better landing visibility
For weight-saving and enhanced performance:
>>Mach 2.04 (~2,179 km/h or 1,354 mph) cruising speed for optimum fuel consumption (supersonic drag minimum although turbojet engines are more efficient at higher speed) Fuel consumption at Mach 2.0 and altitude of 60,000 feet was 4,800 gallons per hour.
>>Mainly aluminium construction for low weight and conventional manufacture (higher speeds would have ruled out aluminium)
>>Full-regime autopilot and autothrottle allowing "hands off" control of the aircraft from climb out to landing
>>Fully electrically controlled analogue fly-by-wire flight controls systems
>>High-pressure hydraulic system of 28 MPa (4,000 lbf/in²) for lighter hydraulic components
>>Complex Air Data Computer (ADC) for the automated monitoring and transmission of aerodynamic measurements (total pressure, static pressure, angle of attack, side-slip).
>>Fully electrically controlled analogue brake-by-wire system
>>Pitch trim by shifting fuel around the fuselage for centre-of-gravity control
>>Parts made using "sculpture milling", reducing the part count while saving weight and adding strength.
>>No auxiliary power unit, as Concorde would only visit large airports where ground air start carts are available.