Concorde’s 40th Anniversary
Haynes marks Concorde’s 40th anniversary with 20 fascinating facts you didn’t know about the world’s first supersonic passenger jet
Haynes author and former Concorde flight engineer superintendent shares insights
As celebrations get underway this month to commemorate 40 years since Concorde’s first entry into service with British Airways on 21 January 1976, David Macdonald, one of the co-authors of the Haynes Concorde Manual, shares his top facts about the world’s first supersonic passenger jet.
The Anglo-French Concorde supersonic passenger transport is probably the most famous airliner in history. Its glamour was exceeded only by its speed of more than Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound. Concorde was able to cross the Atlantic from London to New York in little more than three hours, cutting the journey time of conventional subsonic airliners by more than half. In 2003, when the British and French Concorde fleets were prematurely retired from service, a unique era in travel and supersonic passenger aircraft design came to an end.
David Macdonald and his co-author Captain David Leney, who together wrote the Haynes Concorde Manual, are two of British Airways’ most experienced former Concorde flight crew. The manual provides readers with rare insights into what it’s like to fly, operate and service the world’s only supersonic airliner.
As part of the original ‘core’ Concorde crew team of 1976, David Macdonald shared responsibility for various aspects of the planning and operation of the first commercial flight. He was appointed to the position of Flight Engineer Superintendent Concorde in 1974 with British Airways, before retiring 20 years later in 1994.
Talking about the Concorde, David Macdonald, who will be speaking at a special commemorative lecture event taking place at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on 20 January, commented: “It was an honour to be amongst the first crew to fly this beautiful and supersonic airliner. I have so many incredible memories of it, and there are a huge amount of facts that the general public may not be aware of.
“For example, many may not be aware how much temperature impacted the aircraft – to put it into context, we experienced the same -55 ° to -60 ° centigrade that was the natural temperature of the upper atmosphere, but because of our very high cruise speed everything heated up. Think friction between air molecules and aircraft skin and also the air molecules can't get out of the way and pile up as pressure waves (shock waves that make the sonic boom when they reach the ground) – compressing air like that produces more heat. It still seems incredible to me that the whole structure was bathed in that sort of heat – hotter than the boiling point of water!”
To commemorate this anniversary, Haynes Manuals has worked with David Macdonald to compile his top favourite facts that you may or may not know about Concorde.
Top facts about the flight of Concorde from David Macdonald, co-author of the Haynes Concorde Manual:
- During supercruise at Mach 2, 1,350mph, Concorde's skin temperature rises to +127° centigrade. A special aluminium alloy with good high-temperature properties was required. Step forward RR58, a material developed by Rolls-Royce for pistons in the Merlin engine of Spitfire and Lancaster fame. Manufactured by High Duty Alloys of Slough, RR58 became the material of choice for Concorde's structure.
- Within the cosy confines of the cockpit the crew of three are surrounded by, but protected from, the blistering heat: windows are quite warm to the touch. Overnight rainwater that may have leaked into a window's double-glazing interspace was seen to simmer at Mach 1.6 and completely boil away after a few minutes at Mach 2.
- That same heat soak expands Concorde's structure to 8 inches longer than when on the ground.
- No matter what livery a design consultant may devise, Concorde MUST be painted predominantly white in order to reflect solar heat.
- Entry into service was on 21 January 1976. Air France and British Airways made simultaneous departures to Bahrain. As the British aircraft left the ramp, the Dagenham Girl Pipers, in attendance, played "Will ye no come back again”. Whilst taxying-out for take-off, Captain Todd at Heathrow exchanged fraternal greetings with Captain Dudal in Paris over a special radio link.
- The Rolls-Royce Olympus engine that powers Concorde has direct lineage back to the BAC TSR-2 combat aircraft of the late 50s. The Olympus was actually designed and built by the Bristol Aero Engine Company; Rolls-Royce bought the company in 1962. You can tell it's a Bristol product – all their engines have names from mythology, e.g: Hercules, Centaurus, Pegasus, Proteus; whereas Rolls-Royce jet engines are named after British rivers – Derwent, Dart, Tyne, Avon, RB211! The last named did, in fact, morph into the Trent!
- It takes just 7 seconds for the four Olympus engines to pile on the 152,000 pounds of thrust at take-off.
- On a standard performance climb-out at maximum weight it takes 9 minutes to reach Mach 1 and 22 minutes to hit Mach 2: not bad for a 100-seater!
- When Concorde reached Mach 2 (the speed of sound) at 50,000ft, the Captain would advise passengers that Mach 2 is 1,320mph – 22 miles per minute, or one mile in 2¾ seconds.
- There were just 14 Concorde airliners built (plus 6 test aircraft), but over 27 years of service they visited 375 airfields worldwide, ranging from New Zealand to the Arctic Circle and every degree of longitude.
- Fancy an indulgent winter break? Try the Concorde World Air Cruise. Developed in the 1980s, the concept took an aircraft, a crew and 100 passengers on a three- to four-week itinerary, circling the globe, calling at top class destinations.
- The fastest Atlantic crossing was flown on 7 February 1996, from New York to London in a time of 2 hours 52 minutes 59 seconds. The onset of winter would always set a Concorde airman's pulse racing. He would scan the weather reports looking for a big fat jet stream, seeking to ride its currents west to east. My personal best was a mere 3 hours and 3 minutes. Concorde's highest speed with wind assistance? 1,488mph!
- Winter flying brought the ‘western sunrise’. The evening flight from London to New York took off after dark, but at 1,350mph it caught up with the sun and there was the sun ahead, 'rising' above the western horizon.
- Four Concorde aircraft were flown in formation on 24 December 1985 to shoot stills and film for our 10 years in service celebrations. This was a perfectly genuine shoot with four of our aircraft flown in close proximity – Photoshop hadn't been invented. Why four aircraft? By that date only four had been repainted in the new Landor blue tail colours.
- As a birthday present for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, she was given a Concorde for a day, to make a tour of the United Kingdom.
- Just 134 pilots and 57 flight engineers flew British Airways Concordes.
- For the Live Aid Charity Concert on 13 July 1985, Phil Collins played a set at London then, courtesy of Concorde, he was able to play another set at Philadelphia on the same day.
- Between 1976 and 1979 one would have been able to buy a Concorde: it would have taken 3 days (testing) and £22.5 million.
- The interior of the aircraft was certainly compact, not least for the pilots: on the flight deck headroom was just 4ft 6in, with 25ft of nose stretching ahead!
- I'm told that on a mid-winter charter to Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle (Finland), a Finnair MD-80 twin-jet aeroplane gave a jump start to Concorde! Concorde doesn't have a built-in Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to provide electricity and start power; we have to rely on ground equipment. On the day in question the airfield's start truck failed. The MD-80 was positioned close enough for a hose to be connected from the MD-80's APU to Concorde's air start connection.
About the authors
David Leney trained as a pilot in the RAF before joining BOAC. He flew and navigated the Lockheed Constellation and Canadair C-4 Argonaut, and co-piloted the Bristol Britannia, attaining command on Vickers VC10s in 1971. In 1974 he became Pilot Manager of the VC10 fleet and in 1976 he joined the Concorde fleet at the beginning of its association with British Airways. By 1977 he had completed the six-month course and qualified as a Concorde Captain, later becoming Flight Manager. He retired from flying in 1992 and lives in Surrey.
David Macdonald began his aviation career as an airframe/engine apprentice with BEA, leaving to undertake flight engineer training with BOAC in 1961. His first posting was to the de Havilland Comet 4 before moving on to the VC10. His eleven years on the VC10 fleet included three as an Instructor/Examiner and a further three as a Flight Engineer Superintendent (FES). In 1974 he was appointed to the position of FES Concorde with British Airways, retiring in 1994. He lives in Buckinghamshire.
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