Concorde Crashes Outside Paris

Concorde Crashes Outside Paris

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A news report, including an eyewitness account, provides details of the Air France Concorde jet that crashed on July 25, 2000, shortly after takeoff from France on its way to New York, killing 113 people.

Minutes after takeoff on Tuesday afternoon, a Concorde jet crashed killing all on board. The Air France plane had left from Paris's Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport bound for New York and came down in the town of Gonesse, about 5 kilometres from the capital.

The French Interior Ministry report that 100 passengers, all German, and the nine-strong French crew perished in the crash. It is believed that at least four people on the ground have been killed. The French Civil Aviation Authority says the dead passengers included 50 women, 47 men and three children.

German cruise organisers Deilmann had chartered the plane to take a tourist party to meet one of their ships in New York before sailing on to Ecuador.

Eyewitnesses report seeing flames coming from the left engine before the aircraft exploded on impact. The plane would have had full fuel tanks at the start of its flight. “When the plane crashed, there was a huge ball of fire and an enormous plume of black smoke,” one said. It would appear that the engine caught fire shortly after takeoff and the pilot may have been struggling to turn the plane around to return and make an emergency landing. One bystander described the sound of the impact as being like an atomic bomb.

The Concorde crashed just metres from one of the busy highways bringing rush-hour traffic away from Paris. Television video showed a mass of tangled wreckage, with fire crews still hosing down the smoking remains two hours after the crash.

Although the plane narrowly missed the Relais Bleu hotel, it completely destroyed the Hotelissmo next door. At the time of this report, three people were also still missing, who are believed to have worked in the devastated hotel building.

The crashed plane was built in May 1975 and had flown over 11,000 hours, but was the first fatal accident involving a Concorde, which went into commercial service in 1976. An incident involving a burst tyre led to a design modification in 1979. In January this year a British Airways Concorde made two emergency landings in the space of 24 hours, and in October last year a piece of tail fell off in mid-flight. The BBC web site reports that between 1998 and 1999, 130 incidents involving the aircraft were reported to the Civil Aviation Authority, but said this was similar to the record of other commercial planes.

The fatal accident comes just days after British Airways admitted that hairline cracks had been found in the wings of all seven Concordes in its fleet. On Monday British Airways grounded one of its Concordes after finding the cracks had lengthened. In an interview given before the crash, David Learmount of Flight International magazine said, “The thing that causes fatigue is not age but usage. Concorde is used only about a quarter or a fifth the amount of other planes.”

Former Concorde pilots and other air experts said they did not believe the cracks were the immediate cause of the crash, which they thought could be related to an engine problem.

The first Concorde flew in 1969 and 20 were built between 1975 and 1980. Of these only 13 remain in service, with 7 in the British Airways fleet and 6 belonging to Air France.

The flying life of the plane was recently extended to 2006. “Extending the life of a plane is a common thing these days because of advances in inspection techniques and also the better use of inspection data,” commented Malcolm English, editor of Air International.

The aircraft, the only commercial supersonic airliner, was developed as an Anglo-French undertaking. The enormous development costs, running into billions of pounds, were eventually written off by the British and French governments.

With a standard return-fare ticket from London to New York of £6,636 ($10,070), there is a certain commercial pressure to keep the Concorde fleet flying. “Although Concorde makes up just a fraction of British Airway's overall fleet, it does wonders for the company's prestige,” said Learmount. “They get a huge number of prosperous American travellers who will not travel by any other means.”

In the aftermath of the crash the French Transport Minister has ordered the grounding of all other Concordes in the Air France fleet.


Early studies Edit

The origins of the Concorde project date to the early 1950s, when Arnold Hall, director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), asked Morien Morgan to form a committee to study the supersonic transport (SST) concept. The group met for the first time in February 1954 and delivered their first report in April 1955. [15]

At the time it was known that the drag at supersonic speeds was strongly related to the span of the wing. [N 1] This led to the use of very short-span, very thin trapezoidal wings such as those seen on the control surfaces of many missiles, or in aircraft such as the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter or the Avro 730 that the team studied. The team outlined a baseline configuration that resembled an enlarged Avro 730. [16]

This same short span produced very little lift at low speed, which resulted in extremely long take-off runs and frighteningly high landing speeds. [17] In an SST design, this would have required enormous engine power to lift off from existing runways, and to provide the fuel needed, "some horribly large aeroplanes" resulted. [16] Based on this, the group considered the concept of an SST infeasible, and instead suggested continued low-level studies into supersonic aerodynamics. [16]

Slender deltas Edit

Soon after, Johanna Weber and Dietrich Küchemann at the RAE published a series of reports on a new wing planform, known in the UK as the "slender delta" concept. [18] [19] The team, including Eric Maskell whose report "Flow Separation in Three Dimensions" contributed to an understanding of the physical nature of separated flow, [20] worked with the fact that delta wings can produce strong vortices on their upper surfaces at high angles of attack. [16] The vortex will lower the air pressure and cause lift to be greatly increased. This effect had been noticed earlier, notably by Chuck Yeager in the Convair XF-92, but its qualities had not been fully appreciated. Weber suggested that this was no mere curiosity, and the effect could be used deliberately to improve low speed performance. [19] [16]

Küchemann's and Weber's papers changed the entire nature of supersonic design almost overnight. Although the delta had already been used on aircraft prior to this point, these designs used planforms that were not much different from a swept wing of the same span. [N 2] Weber noted that the lift from the vortex was increased by the length of the wing it had to operate over, which suggested that the effect would be maximised by extending the wing along the fuselage as far as possible. Such a layout would still have good supersonic performance inherent to the short span, while also offering reasonable take-off and landing speeds using vortex generation. [19] The only downside to such a design is that the aircraft would have to take off and land very "nose high" to generate the required vortex lift, which led to questions about the low speed handling qualities of such a design. [21] It would also need to have long landing gear to produce the required angle of attack while still on the runway.

Küchemann presented the idea at a meeting where Morgan was also present. Test pilot Eric Brown recalls Morgan's reaction to the presentation, saying that he immediately seized on it as the solution to the SST problem. Brown considers this moment as being the true birth of the Concorde project. [21]

Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee Edit

On 1 October 1956 the Ministry of Supply asked Morgan to form a new study group, the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee (STAC) [22] (sometimes referred to as the Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee), with the explicit goal of developing a practical SST design and finding industry partners to build it. At the very first meeting, on 5 November 1956, the decision was made to fund the development of a test bed aircraft to examine the low-speed performance of the slender delta, a contract that eventually produced the Handley Page HP.115. [21] This aircraft would ultimately demonstrate safe control at speeds as low as 69 mph (111 km/h), about 1 / 3 that of the F-104 Starfighter. [23]

STAC stated that an SST would have economic performance similar to existing subsonic types. [16] Although they would burn more fuel in cruise, they would be able to fly more sorties in a given period of time, so fewer aircraft would be needed to service a particular route. This would remain economically advantageous as long as fuel represented a small percentage of operational costs, as it did at the time. [16]

STAC suggested that two designs naturally fell out of their work, a transatlantic model flying at about Mach 2, and a shorter-range version flying at Mach 1.2 perhaps. Morgan suggested that a 150-passenger transatlantic SST would cost about £75 to £90 million to develop, and be in service in 1970. The smaller 100 passenger short-range version would cost perhaps £50 to £80 million, and be ready for service in 1968. To meet this schedule, development would need to begin in 1960, with production contracts let in 1962. [16] Morgan strongly suggested that the U.S. was already involved in a similar project, and that if the UK failed to respond it would be locked out of an airliner market that he believed would be dominated by SST aircraft. [24]

In 1959, a study contract was awarded to Hawker Siddeley and Bristol for preliminary designs based on the slender delta concept, [25] which developed as the HSA.1000 and Bristol 198. Armstrong Whitworth also responded with an internal design, the M-Wing, for the lower-speed shorter-range category. Even at this early time, both the STAC group and the government were looking for partners to develop the designs. In September 1959, Hawker approached Lockheed, and after the creation of British Aircraft Corporation in 1960, the former Bristol team immediately started talks with Boeing, General Dynamics, Douglas Aircraft, and Sud Aviation. [25]

Ogee planform selected Edit

Küchemann and others at the RAE continued their work on the slender delta throughout this period, considering three basic shapes the classic straight-edge delta, the "gothic delta" that was rounded outward to appear like a gothic arch, and the "ogival wing" that was compound-rounded into the shape of an ogee. Each of these planforms had its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of aerodynamics. As they worked with these shapes, a practical concern grew to become so important that it forced selection of one of these designs. [26]

Generally one wants to have the wing's centre of pressure (CP, or "lift point") close to the aircraft's centre of gravity (CG, or "balance point") to reduce the amount of control force required to pitch the aircraft. As the aircraft layout changes during the design phase, it is common for the CG to move fore or aft. With a normal wing design this can be addressed by moving the wing slightly fore or aft to account for this. [N 3] With a delta wing running most of the length of the fuselage, this was no longer easy moving the wing would leave it in front of the nose or behind the tail. Studying the various layouts in terms of CG changes, both during design and changes due to fuel use during flight, the ogee planform immediately came to the fore. [26]

While the wing planform was evolving, so was the basic SST concept. Bristol's original Type 198 was a small design with an almost pure slender delta wing, [27] but evolved into the larger Type 223.

To test the new wing, NASA privately assisted the team by modifying a Douglas F5D Skylancer with temporary wing modifications to mimic the wing selection. In 1965 the NASA test aircraft successfully tested the wing, and found that it reduced landing speeds noticeably over the standard delta wing. NASA Ames test center also ran simulations that showed the aircraft would suffer a sudden change in pitch when entering ground effect. Ames test pilots later participated in a joint cooperative test with the French and British test pilots and found that the simulations had been correct, and this information was added to pilot training. [28]

Partnership with Sud Aviation Edit

By this time similar political and economic concerns in France had led to their own SST plans. In the late 1950s the government requested designs from both the government-owned Sud Aviation and Nord Aviation, as well as Dassault. [N 4] All three returned designs based on Küchemann and Weber's slender delta Nord suggested a ramjet powered design flying at Mach 3, the other two were jet powered Mach 2 designs that were similar to each other. Of the three, the Sud Aviation Super-Caravelle won the design contest with a medium-range design deliberately sized to avoid competition with transatlantic US designs they assumed were already on the drawing board. [29]

As soon as the design was complete, in April 1960, Pierre Satre, the company's technical director, was sent to Bristol to discuss a partnership. Bristol was surprised to find that the Sud team had designed a very similar aircraft after considering the SST problem and coming to the very same conclusions as the Bristol and STAC teams in terms of economics. It was later revealed that the original STAC report, marked "For UK Eyes Only", had secretly been passed to the French to win political favour. Sud made minor changes to the paper, and presented it as their own work. [30]

Unsurprisingly, the two teams found much to agree on. The French had no modern large jet engines, and had already concluded they would buy a British design anyway (as they had on the earlier subsonic Caravelle). [31] As neither company had experience in the use of high-heat metals for airframes, a maximum speed of around Mach 2 was selected so aluminium could be used – above this speed the friction with the air warms the metal so much that aluminium begins to soften. This lower speed would also speed development and allow their design to fly before the Americans. Finally, everyone involved agreed that Küchemann's ogee shaped wing was the right one. [29]

The only disagreements were over the size and range. The UK team was still focused on a 150-passenger design serving transatlantic routes, while the French were deliberately avoiding these. However, this proved not to be the barrier it might seem common components could be used in both designs, with the shorter range version using a clipped fuselage and four engines, the longer one with a stretched fuselage and six engines, leaving only the wing to be extensively re-designed. [32] The teams continued to meet through 1961, and by this time it was clear that the two aircraft would be considerably more similar in spite of different range and seating arrangements. A single design emerged that differed mainly in fuel load. More powerful Bristol Siddeley Olympus engines, being developed for the TSR-2, allowed either design to be powered by only four engines. [33]

Cabinet response, treaty Edit

While the development teams met, French Minister of Public Works and Transport Robert Buron was meeting with the UK Minister of Aviation Peter Thorneycroft, and Thorneycroft soon revealed to the cabinet that the French were much more serious about a partnership than any of the U.S. companies. [34] The various U.S. companies had proved uninterested in such a venture, likely due to the belief that the government would be funding development and would frown on any partnership with a European company, and the risk of "giving away" U.S. technological leadership to a European partner. [25]

When the STAC plans were presented to the UK cabinet, a very negative reaction resulted. The economic considerations were considered highly questionable, especially as these were based on development costs, now estimated to be £150 million, which were repeatedly overrun in the industry. The Treasury Ministry in particular presented a very negative view, suggesting that there was no way the project would have any positive financial returns for the government, especially in light that "the industry's past record of over-optimistic estimating (including the recent history of the TSR.2) suggests that it would be prudent to consider the £150 million [cost] to turn out much too low." [34]

This concern led to an independent review of the project by the Committee on Civil Scientific Research and Development, which met on topic between July and September 1962. The Committee ultimately rejected the economic arguments, including considerations of supporting the industry made by Thorneycroft. Their report in October stated that it was unlikely there would be any direct positive economic outcome, but that the project should still be considered for the simple reason that everyone else was going supersonic, and they were concerned they would be locked out of future markets. Conversely, it appeared the project would not be likely to significantly affect other, more important, research efforts. [34]

After considerable argument, the decision to proceed ultimately fell to an unlikely political expediency. At the time, the UK was pressing for admission to the European Common Market, and this became the main rationale for moving ahead with the aircraft. [35] The development project was negotiated as an international treaty between the two countries rather than a commercial agreement between companies and included a clause, originally asked for by the UK, imposing heavy penalties for cancellation. This treaty was signed on 29 November 1962. [36] Charles De Gaulle would soon veto the UK's entry into the Common Market in a speech on 25 January 1963. [37]

Naming Edit

Reflecting the treaty between the British and French governments that led to Concorde's construction, the name Concorde is from the French word concorde (IPA: [kɔ̃kɔʁd] ), which has an English equivalent, concord. Both words mean agreement, harmony, or union. The name was officially changed to Concord by Harold Macmillan in response to a perceived slight by Charles de Gaulle. At the French roll-out in Toulouse in late 1967, [38] the British Government Minister of Technology, Tony Benn, announced that he would change the spelling back to Concorde. [39] This created a nationalist uproar that died down when Benn stated that the suffixed "e" represented "Excellence, England, Europe, and Entente (Cordiale)". In his memoirs, he recounts a tale of a letter from an irate Scotsman claiming: "[Y]ou talk about 'E' for England, but part of it is made in Scotland." Given Scotland's contribution of providing the nose cone for the aircraft, Benn replied, "[I]t was also 'E' for 'Écosse' (the French name for Scotland) – and I might have added 'e' for extravagance and 'e' for escalation as well!" [40]

Concorde also acquired an unusual nomenclature for an aircraft. In common usage in the United Kingdom, the type is known as "Concorde" without an article, rather than "the Concorde" or "a Concorde". [41] [42]

Sales efforts Edit

Described by Flight International as an "aviation icon" and "one of aerospace's most ambitious but commercially flawed projects", [43] [44] Concorde failed to meet its original sales targets, despite initial interest from several airlines.

At first, the new consortium intended to produce one long-range and one short-range version. However, prospective customers showed no interest in the short-range version and it was dropped. [36]

A two page advertisement for Concorde ran in the 29 May 1967 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology which predicted a market for 350 aircraft by 1980 and boasted of Concorde's head start over the United States' SST project. [45]

Concorde had considerable difficulties that led to its dismal sales performance. Costs had spiralled during development to more than six times the original projections, arriving at a unit cost of £23 million in 1977 (equivalent to £143.95 million in 2019). [46] Its sonic boom made travelling supersonically over land impossible without causing complaints from citizens. [47] World events had also dampened Concorde sales prospects, the 1973–74 stock market crash and the 1973 oil crisis had made many airlines cautious about aircraft with high fuel consumption rates and new wide-body aircraft, such as the Boeing 747, had recently made subsonic aircraft significantly more efficient and presented a low-risk option for airlines. [48] While carrying a full load, Concorde achieved 15.8 passenger miles per gallon of fuel, while the Boeing 707 reached 33.3 pm/g, the Boeing 747 46.4 pm/g, and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 53.6 pm/g. [49] An emerging trend in the industry in favour of cheaper airline tickets had also caused airlines such as Qantas to question Concorde's market suitability. [50]

The consortium received orders, i.e., non-binding options, for more than 100 of the long-range version from the major airlines of the day: Pan Am, BOAC, and Air France were the launch customers, with six Concordes each. Other airlines in the order book included Panair do Brasil, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, American Airlines, United Airlines, Air India, Air Canada, Braniff, Singapore Airlines, Iran Air, Olympic Airways, Qantas, CAAC Airlines, Middle East Airlines, and TWA. [36] [51] [52] At the time of the first flight the options list contained 74 options from 16 airlines: [53]

Airline Number Reserved Cancelled Remarks
Pan Am [54] 6 3 June 1963 31 January 1973 2 extra options in 1964
Air France 6 3 June 1963 2 extra options in 1964
BOAC 6 3 June 1963 2 extra options in 1964
Continental Airlines 3 24 July 1963 Mar 1973
American Airlines 4 7 October 1963 Feb 1973 2 extra options in 1965
TWA 4 16 October 1963 31 January 1973 2 extra options in 1965
Middle East Airlines 2 4 December 1963 Feb 1973
Qantas 6 19 March 1964 June 1973 [55] 2 cancelled in May 1966
Air India 2 15 July 1964 Feb 1975
Japan Airlines 3 30 September 1965 1973
Sabena 2 1 December 1965 Feb 1973
Eastern Airlines 2 28 June 1966 Feb 1973 2 extra options on 15 August 1966
2 other extra options on 28 April 1967
United Airlines 6 29 June 1966 26 October 1972
Braniff 3 1 September 1966 Feb 1973
Lufthansa 3 16 February 1967 Apr 1973
Air Canada 4 1 March 1967 6 June 1972 [56]
CAAC 2 24 July 1972 Dec 1979 [57]
Iran Air 2 8 October 1972 Feb 1980

Testing Edit

The design work was supported by a preceding research programme studying the flight characteristics of low ratio delta wings. A supersonic Fairey Delta 2 was modified to carry the ogee planform, and, renamed as the BAC 221, used for flight tests of the high speed flight envelope, [58] the Handley Page HP.115 also provided valuable information on low speed performance. [59]

Construction of two prototypes began in February 1965: 001, built by Aérospatiale at Toulouse, and 002, by BAC at Filton, Bristol. Concorde 001 made its first test flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969, piloted by André Turcat, [60] and first went supersonic on 1 October. [61] The first UK-built Concorde flew from Filton to RAF Fairford on 9 April 1969, piloted by Brian Trubshaw. [62] [63] Both prototypes were presented to the public for the first time on 7–8 June 1969 at the Paris Air Show. As the flight programme progressed, 001 embarked on a sales and demonstration tour on 4 September 1971, which was also the first transatlantic crossing of Concorde. [64] [65] Concorde 002 followed suit on 2 June 1972 with a tour of the Middle and Far East. [66] Concorde 002 made the first visit to the United States in 1973, landing at the new Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport to mark that airport's opening. [67]

While Concorde had initially held a great deal of customer interest, the project was hit by a large number of order cancellations. The Paris Le Bourget air show crash of the competing Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 had shocked potential buyers, and public concern over the environmental issues presented by a supersonic aircraft—the sonic boom, take-off noise and pollution—had produced a shift in public opinion of SSTs. By 1976 four nations remained as prospective buyers: Britain, France, China, and Iran. [47] Only Air France and British Airways (the successor to BOAC) took up their orders, with the two governments taking a cut of any profits made. [68]

The United States government cut federal funding for the Boeing 2707, its rival supersonic transport programme, in 1971 Boeing did not complete its two 2707 prototypes. The US, India, and Malaysia all ruled out Concorde supersonic flights over the noise concern, although some of these restrictions were later relaxed. [69] [70] Professor Douglas Ross characterised restrictions placed upon Concorde operations by President Jimmy Carter's administration as having been an act of protectionism of American aircraft manufacturers. [71]

General features Edit

Concorde is an ogival delta winged aircraft with four Olympus engines based on those employed in the RAF's Avro Vulcan strategic bomber. It is one of the few commercial aircraft to employ a tailless design (the Tupolev Tu-144 being another). Concorde was the first airliner to have a (in this case, analogue) fly-by-wire flight-control system the avionics system Concorde used was unique because it was the first commercial aircraft to employ hybrid circuits. [72] The principal designer for the project was Pierre Satre, with Sir Archibald Russell as his deputy. [73]

Concorde pioneered the following technologies:

For high speed and optimisation of flight:

    (ogee/ogival) shaped wings [18]
  • Variable engine air intake ramp system controlled by digital computers[74] capability [75]
  • Thrust-by-wire engines, predecessor of today's FADEC-controlled engines [74] for better landing visibility

For weight-saving and enhanced performance:

Powerplant Edit

A symposium titled "Supersonic-Transport Implications" was hosted by the Royal Aeronautical Society on 8 December 1960. Various views were put forward on the likely type of powerplant for a supersonic transport, such as podded or buried installation and turbojet or ducted-fan engines. [90] [91] Boundary layer management in the podded installation was put forward as simpler with only an inlet cone but Dr. Seddon of the RAE saw "a future in a more sophisticated integration of shapes" in a buried installation. Another concern highlighted the case with two or more engines situated behind a single intake. An intake failure could lead to a double or triple engine failure. The advantage of the ducted fan over the turbojet was reduced airport noise but with considerable economic penalties with its larger cross-section producing excessive drag. [92] At that time it was considered that the noise from a turbojet optimised for supersonic cruise could be reduced to an acceptable level using noise suppressors as used on subsonic jets.

The powerplant configuration selected for Concorde, and its development to a certificated design, can be seen in light of the above symposium topics (which highlighted airfield noise, boundary layer management and interactions between adjacent engines) and the requirement that the powerplant, at Mach 2, tolerate combinations of pushovers, sideslips, pull-ups and throttle slamming without surging. [93] : p.131 Extensive development testing with design changes and changes to intake and engine control laws would address most of the issues except airfield noise and the interaction between adjacent powerplants at speeds above Mach 1.6 which meant Concorde "had to be certified aerodynamically as a twin-engined aircraft above Mach 1.6". [93]

Rolls-Royce had a design proposal, the RB.169, for the aircraft at the time of Concorde's initial design [94] but "to develop a brand-new engine for Concorde would have been prohibitively expensive" [95] so an existing engine, already flying in the supersonic TSR-2 prototype, was chosen. It was the BSEL Olympus Mk 320 turbojet, a development of the Bristol engine first used for the subsonic Avro Vulcan bomber.

Great confidence was placed in being able to reduce the noise of a turbojet and massive strides by SNECMA in silencer design were reported during the programme. [96] However, by 1974 the spade silencers which projected into the exhaust were reported to be ineffective. [97] The Olympus Mk.622 with reduced jet velocity was proposed to reduce the noise [98] but it was not developed.

Situated behind the leading edge of the wing the engine intake had wing boundary layer ahead of it. Two-thirds was diverted and the remaining third which entered the intake did not adversely affect the intake efficiency [93] : p.21 except during pushovers when the boundary layer thickened ahead of the intake and caused surging. Extensive wind tunnel testing helped define leading edge modifications ahead of the intakes which solved the problem. [99]

Each engine had its own intake and the engine nacelles were paired with a splitter plate between them to minimise adverse behaviour of one powerplant influencing the other. Only above Mach 1.6 (1,960.1 km/h 1,217.9 mph) was an engine surge likely to affect the adjacent engine. [93]

Concorde needed to fly long distances to be economically viable this required high efficiency from the powerplant. Turbofan engines were rejected due to their larger cross-section producing excessive drag. Olympus turbojet technology was available to be developed to meet the design requirements of the aircraft, although turbofans would be studied for any future SST. [100]

The aircraft used reheat (afterburners) only at take-off and to pass through the upper transonic regime to supersonic speeds, between Mach 0.95 and 1.7. Reheat was switched off at all other times. [101] Due to jet engines being highly inefficient at low speeds, Concorde burned two tonnes (4,400 lb) of fuel (almost 2% of the maximum fuel load) taxiing to the runway. [102] Fuel used is Jet A-1. Due to the high thrust produced even with the engines at idle, only the two outer engines were run after landing for easier taxiing and less brake pad wear – at low weights after landing, the aircraft would not remain stationary with all four engines idling requiring the brakes to be continuously applied to prevent the aircraft from rolling.

The air intake design for Concorde's engines was especially critical. [103] The intakes had to slow down supersonic inlet air to subsonic speeds with high pressure recovery to ensure efficient operation at cruising speed while providing low distortion levels (to prevent engine surge) and maintaining high efficiency for all likely ambient temperatures to be met in cruise. They had to provide adequate subsonic performance for diversion cruise and low engine-face distortion at take-off. They also had to provide an alternative path for excess intake air during engine throttling or shutdowns. [104] The variable intake features required to meet all these requirements consisted of front and rear ramps, a dump door, an auxiliary inlet and a ramp bleed to the exhaust nozzle. [105]

As well as supplying air to the engine, the intake also supplied air through the ramp bleed to the propelling nozzle. The nozzle ejector (or aerodynamic) design, with variable exit area and secondary flow from the intake, contributed to good expansion efficiency from take-off to cruise. [106]

Concorde's Air Intake Control Units (AICUs) made use of a digital processor to provide the necessary accuracy for intake control. It was the world's first use of a digital processor to be given full authority control of an essential system in a passenger aircraft. It was developed by the Electronics and Space Systems (ESS) division of the British Aircraft Corporation after it became clear that the analogue AICUs fitted to the prototype aircraft and developed by Ultra Electronics were found to be insufficiently accurate for the tasks in hand. [107]

Engine failure causes problems on conventional subsonic aircraft not only does the aircraft lose thrust on that side but the engine creates drag, causing the aircraft to yaw and bank in the direction of the failed engine. If this had happened to Concorde at supersonic speeds, it theoretically could have caused a catastrophic failure of the airframe. Although computer simulations predicted considerable problems, in practice Concorde could shut down both engines on the same side of the aircraft at Mach 2 without the predicted difficulties. [108] During an engine failure the required air intake is virtually zero. So, on Concorde, engine failure was countered by the opening of the auxiliary spill door and the full extension of the ramps, which deflected the air downwards past the engine, gaining lift and minimising drag. Concorde pilots were routinely trained to handle double engine failure. [109]

Concorde's thrust-by-wire engine control system was developed by Ultra Electronics. [110]

Heating problems Edit

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 the end of the flight. [111] Besides engines, the hottest part of the structure of any supersonic aircraft is the nose, due to aerodynamic heating. The engineers used Hiduminium R.R. 58, an aluminium alloy, throughout the aircraft because of its familiarity, cost and ease of construction. The highest temperature that aluminium could sustain over the life of the aircraft was 127 °C (261 °F), which limited the top speed to Mach 2.02. [112] Concorde went through two cycles of heating and cooling during a flight, first cooling down as it gained altitude, then heating up after going supersonic. The reverse happened when descending and slowing down. This had to be factored into the metallurgical and fatigue modelling. A test rig was built that repeatedly heated up a full-size section of the wing, and then cooled it, and periodically samples of metal were taken for testing. [113] [114] The Concorde airframe was designed for a life of 45,000 flying hours. [115]

Owing to air compression in front of the plane as it travelled at supersonic speed, the fuselage heated up and expanded by as much as 300 mm (12 in). The most obvious manifestation of this was a gap that opened up on the flight deck between the flight engineer's console and the bulkhead. On some aircraft that conducted a retiring supersonic flight, the flight engineers placed their caps in this expanded gap, wedging the cap when it shrank again. [116] To keep the cabin cool, Concorde used the fuel as a heat sink for the heat from the air conditioning. [117] The same method also cooled the hydraulics. During supersonic flight the surfaces forward from the cockpit became heated, and a visor was used to deflect much of this heat from directly reaching the cockpit. [118]

Concorde had livery restrictions the majority of the surface had to be covered with a highly reflective white paint to avoid overheating the aluminium structure due to heating effects from supersonic flight at Mach 2. The white finish reduced the skin temperature by 6 to 11 °C (11 to 20 °F). [119] In 1996, Air France briefly painted F-BTSD in a predominantly blue livery, with the exception of the wings, in a promotional deal with Pepsi. [120] In this paint scheme, Air France was advised to remain at Mach 2 (2,120 km/h 1,320 mph) for no more than 20 minutes at a time, but there was no restriction at speeds under Mach 1.7. F-BTSD was used because it was not scheduled for any long flights that required extended Mach 2 operations. [121]

Structural issues Edit

Due to its high speeds, large forces were applied to the aircraft during banks and turns, and caused twisting and distortion of the aircraft's structure. In addition there were concerns over maintaining precise control at supersonic speeds. Both of these issues were resolved by active ratio changes between the inboard and outboard elevons, varying at differing speeds including supersonic. Only the innermost elevons, which are attached to the stiffest area of the wings, were active at high speed. [122] Additionally, the narrow fuselage meant that the aircraft flexed. [74] This was visible from the rear passengers' viewpoints. [123]

When any aircraft passes the critical mach of that particular airframe, the centre of pressure shifts rearwards. This causes a pitch down moment on the aircraft if the centre of gravity remains where it was. The engineers designed the wings in a specific manner to reduce this shift, but there was still a shift of about 2 metres (6 ft 7 in). This could have been countered by the use of trim controls, but at such high speeds this would have dramatically increased drag. Instead, the distribution of fuel along the aircraft was shifted during acceleration and deceleration to move the centre of gravity, effectively acting as an auxiliary trim control. [124]

Range Edit

To fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, Concorde required the greatest supersonic range of any aircraft. [125] This was achieved by a combination of engines which were highly efficient at supersonic speeds, [N 5] [74] 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. [18] [124]

Nevertheless, soon after Concorde began flying, a Concorde "B" model was designed with slightly larger fuel capacity and slightly larger wings with leading edge slats to improve aerodynamic performance at all speeds, with the objective of expanding the range to reach markets in new regions. [126] It featured more powerful engines with sound deadening and without the fuel-hungry and noisy afterburner. It was speculated that it was reasonably possible to create an engine with up to 25% gain in efficiency over the Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593. [127] This would have given 500 mi (805 km) additional range and a greater payload, making new commercial routes possible. This was cancelled due in part to poor sales of Concorde, but also to the rising cost of aviation fuel in the 1970s. [128]

Radiation concerns Edit

Concorde's high cruising altitude meant people onboard received almost twice the flux of extraterrestrial ionising radiation as those travelling on a conventional long-haul flight. [129] [130] Upon Concorde's introduction, it was speculated that this exposure during supersonic travels would increase the likelihood of skin cancer. [131] Due to the proportionally reduced flight time, the overall equivalent dose would normally be less than a conventional flight over the same distance. [132] Unusual solar activity might lead to an increase in incident radiation. [133] To prevent incidents of excessive radiation exposure, the flight deck had a radiometer and an instrument to measure the rate of decrease of radiation. [130] If the radiation level became too high, Concorde would descend below 47,000 feet (14,000 m).

Cabin pressurisation Edit

Airliner cabins were usually maintained at a pressure equivalent to 6,000–8,000 feet (1,800–2,400 m) elevation. Concorde's pressurisation was set to an altitude at the lower end of this range, 6,000 feet (1,800 m). [134] Concorde's maximum cruising altitude was 60,000 feet (18,000 m) subsonic airliners typically cruise below 44,000 feet (13,000 m).

A sudden reduction in cabin pressure is hazardous to all passengers and crew. [135] Above 50,000 feet (15,000 m), a sudden cabin depressurisation would leave a "time of useful consciousness" up to 10–15 seconds for a conditioned athlete. [136] At Concorde's altitude, the air density is very low a breach of cabin integrity would result in a loss of pressure severe enough that the plastic emergency oxygen masks installed on other passenger jets would not be effective and passengers would soon suffer from hypoxia despite quickly donning them. Concorde was equipped with smaller windows to reduce the rate of loss in the event of a breach, [137] a reserve air supply system to augment cabin air pressure, and a rapid descent procedure to bring the aircraft to a safe altitude. The FAA enforces minimum emergency descent rates for aircraft and noting Concorde's higher operating altitude, concluded that the best response to pressure loss would be a rapid descent. [138] Continuous positive airway pressure would have delivered pressurised oxygen directly to the pilots through masks. [137]

Flight characteristics Edit

While subsonic commercial jets took eight hours to fly from Paris to New York (seven hours from New York to Paris), the average supersonic flight time on the transatlantic routes was just under 3.5 hours. Concorde had a maximum cruising altitude of 18,300 metres (60,000 ft) and an average cruise speed of Mach 2.02 (2,150 km/h 1,330 mph), more than twice the speed of conventional aircraft. [139]

With no other civil traffic operating at its cruising altitude of about 56,000 ft (17,000 m), Concorde had exclusive use of dedicated oceanic airways, or "tracks", separate from the North Atlantic Tracks, the routes used by other aircraft to cross the Atlantic. Due to the significantly less variable nature of high altitude winds compared to those at standard cruising altitudes, these dedicated SST tracks had fixed co-ordinates, unlike the standard routes at lower altitudes, whose co-ordinates are replotted twice daily based on forecast weather patterns (jetstreams). [140] Concorde would also be cleared in a 15,000-foot (4,570 m) block, allowing for a slow climb from 45,000 to 60,000 ft (14,000 to 18,000 m) during the oceanic crossing as the fuel load gradually decreased. [141] In regular service, Concorde employed an efficient cruise-climb flight profile following take-off. [142]

The delta-shaped wings required Concorde to adopt a higher angle of attack at low speeds than conventional aircraft, but it allowed the formation of large low pressure vortices over the entire upper wing surface, maintaining lift. [143] The normal landing speed was 170 miles per hour (274 km/h). [144] Because of this high angle, during a landing approach Concorde was on the "back side" of the drag force curve, where raising the nose would increase the rate of descent the aircraft was thus largely flown on the throttle and was fitted with an autothrottle to reduce the pilot's workload. [145]

The only thing that tells you that you're moving is that occasionally when you're flying over the subsonic aeroplanes you can see all these 747s 20,000 feet below you almost appearing to go backwards, I mean you are going 800 miles an hour or thereabouts faster than they are. The aeroplane was an absolute delight to fly, it handled beautifully. And remember we are talking about an aeroplane that was being designed in the late 1950s – mid 1960s. I think it's absolutely amazing and here we are, now in the 21st century, and it remains unique.

Brakes and undercarriage Edit

Because of the way Concorde's delta-wing generated lift, the undercarriage had to be unusually strong and tall to allow for the angle of attack at low speed. At rotation, Concorde would rise to a high angle of attack, about 18 degrees. Prior to rotation the wing generated almost no lift, unlike typical aircraft wings. Combined with the high airspeed at rotation (199 knots or 369 kilometres per hour or 229 miles per hour indicated airspeed), this increased the stresses on the main undercarriage in a way that was initially unexpected during the development and required a major redesign. [147] Due to the high angle needed at rotation, a small set of wheels was added aft to prevent tailstrikes. The main undercarriage units swing towards each other to be stowed but due to their great height also need to contract in length telescopically before swinging to clear each other when stowed. [148]

The four main wheel tyres on each bogie unit are inflated to 232 psi (1,600 kPa). The twin-wheel nose undercarriage retracts forwards and its tyres are inflated to a pressure of 191 psi (1,320 kPa), and the wheel assembly carries a spray deflector to prevent standing water being thrown up into the engine intakes. The tyres are rated to a maximum speed on the runway of 250 mph (400 km/h). [149] The starboard nose wheel carries a single disc brake to halt wheel rotation during retraction of the undercarriage. The port nose wheel carries speed generators for the anti-skid braking system which prevents brake activation until nose and main wheels rotate at the same rate.

Additionally, due to the high average take-off speed of 250 miles per hour (400 km/h), Concorde needed upgraded brakes. Like most airliners, Concorde has anti-skid braking – a system which prevents the tyres from losing traction when the brakes are applied for greater control during roll-out. The brakes, developed by Dunlop, were the first carbon-based brakes used on an airliner. [150] The use of carbon over equivalent steel brakes provided a weight-saving of 1,200 lb (540 kg). [151] Each wheel has multiple discs which are cooled by electric fans. Wheel sensors include brake overload, brake temperature, and tyre deflation. After a typical landing at Heathrow, brake temperatures were around 300–400 °C (570–750 °F). Landing Concorde required a minimum of 6,000 feet (1,800 m) runway length, this in fact being considerably less than the shortest runway Concorde ever actually landed on, that of Cardiff Airport. [152]

Droop nose Edit

Concorde's drooping nose, developed by Marshall's of Cambridge, [153] enabled the aircraft to switch between being streamlined to reduce drag and achieve optimal aerodynamic efficiency without obstructing the pilot's view during taxi, take-off, and landing operations. Due to the high angle of attack, the long pointed nose obstructed the view and necessitated the capability to droop. The droop nose was accompanied by a moving visor that retracted into the nose prior to being lowered. When the nose was raised to horizontal, the visor would rise in front of the cockpit windscreen for aerodynamic streamlining. [153]

A controller in the cockpit allowed the visor to be retracted and the nose to be lowered to 5° below the standard horizontal position for taxiing and take-off. Following take-off and after clearing the airport, the nose and visor were raised. Prior to landing, the visor was again retracted and the nose lowered to 12.5° below horizontal for maximal visibility. Upon landing the nose was raised to the 5° position to avoid the possibility of damage due to collision with ground vehicles, and then raised fully before engine shutdown to prevent pooling of internal condensation within the radome seeping down into the aircraft's pitot/ADC system probes. [153]

The US Federal Aviation Administration had objected to the restrictive visibility of the visor used on the first two prototype Concordes, which had been designed before a suitable high-temperature window glass had become available, and thus requiring alteration before the FAA would permit Concorde to serve US airports. This led to the redesigned visor used on the production and the four pre-production aircraft (101, 102, 201, and 202). [154] The nose window and visor glass, needed to endure temperatures in excess of 100 °C (210 °F) at supersonic flight, were developed by Triplex. [155]

1973 Solar Eclipse Mission Edit

Concorde 001 was modified with rooftop portholes for use on the 1973 Solar Eclipse mission and equipped with observation instruments. It performed the longest observation of a solar eclipse to date, about 74 minutes. [156]

Scheduled flights Edit

Scheduled flights began on 21 January 1976 on the London–Bahrain and Paris–Rio de Janeiro (via Dakar) routes, [157] with BA flights using the Speedbird Concorde call sign to notify air traffic control of the aircraft's unique abilities and restrictions, but the French using their normal call signs. [158] The Paris-Caracas route (via Azores) began on 10 April. The US Congress had just banned Concorde landings in the US, mainly due to citizen protest over sonic booms, preventing launch on the coveted North Atlantic routes. The US Secretary of Transportation, William Coleman, gave permission for Concorde service to Washington Dulles International Airport, and Air France and British Airways simultaneously began a thrice-weekly service to Dulles on 24 May 1976. [159] Due to low demand, Air France cancelled its Washington service in October 1982, while British Airways cancelled it in November 1994. [160]

When the US ban on JFK Concorde operations was lifted in February 1977, New York banned Concorde locally. The ban came to an end on 17 October 1977 when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to overturn a lower court's ruling rejecting efforts by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a grass-roots campaign led by Carol Berman to continue the ban. [161] In spite of complaints about noise, the noise report noted that Air Force One, at the time a Boeing VC-137, was louder than Concorde at subsonic speeds and during take-off and landing. [162] Scheduled service from Paris and London to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport began on 22 November 1977. [163]

In December 1977, British Airways and Singapore Airlines shared a Concorde for flights between London and Singapore International Airport at Paya Lebar via Bahrain. The aircraft, BA's Concorde G-BOAD, was painted in Singapore Airlines livery on the port side and British Airways livery on the starboard side. [164] [165] The service was discontinued after three return flights because of noise complaints from the Malaysian government [166] it could only be reinstated on a new route bypassing Malaysian airspace in 1979. A dispute with India prevented Concorde from reaching supersonic speeds in Indian airspace, so the route was eventually declared not viable and discontinued in 1980. [167]

During the Mexican oil boom, Air France flew Concorde twice weekly to Mexico City's Benito Juárez International Airport via Washington, DC, or New York City, from September 1978 to November 1982. [168] [169] The worldwide economic crisis during that period resulted in this route's cancellation the last flights were almost empty. The routing between Washington or New York and Mexico City included a deceleration, from Mach 2.02 to Mach 0.95, to cross Florida subsonically and avoid creating a sonic boom over the state Concorde then re-accelerated back to high speed while crossing the Gulf of Mexico. On 1 April 1989, on an around-the-world luxury tour charter, British Airways implemented changes to this routing that allowed G-BOAF to maintain Mach 2.02 by passing around Florida to the east and south. Periodically Concorde visited the region on similar chartered flights to Mexico City and Acapulco. [170]

From December 1978 to May 1980, Braniff International Airways leased 11 Concordes, five from Air France and six from British Airways. [171] These were used on subsonic flights between Dallas-Fort Worth and Washington Dulles International Airport, flown by Braniff flight crews. [172] Air France and British Airways crews then took over for the continuing supersonic flights to London and Paris. [173] The aircraft were registered in both the United States and their home countries the European registration was covered while being operated by Braniff, retaining full AF/BA liveries. The flights were not profitable and typically less than 50% booked, forcing Braniff to end its tenure as the only US Concorde operator in May 1980. [174] [175]

In its early years, the British Airways Concorde service had a greater number of "no shows" (passengers who booked a flight and then failed to appear at the gate for boarding) than any other aircraft in the fleet. [176]

British Caledonian interest Edit

Following the launch of British Airways Concorde services, Britain's other major airline, British Caledonian (BCal), set up a task force headed by Gordon Davidson, BA's former Concorde director, to investigate the possibility of their own Concorde operations. [177] [178] [179] This was seen as particularly viable for the airline's long-haul network as there were two unsold aircraft then available for purchase. [180] [181] [182]

One important reason for BCal's interest in Concorde was that the British Government's 1976 aviation policy review had opened the possibility of BA setting up supersonic services in competition with BCal's established sphere of influence. To counteract this potential threat, BCal considered their own independent Concorde plans, as well as a partnership with BA. [183] [184] BCal were considered most likely to have set up a Concorde service on the Gatwick–Lagos route, a major source of revenue and profits within BCal's scheduled route network [185] [186] BCal's Concorde task force did assess the viability of a daily supersonic service complementing the existing subsonic widebody service on this route. [181] [184] [187]

BCal entered into a bid to acquire at least one Concorde. [180] [182] [187] However, BCal eventually arranged for two aircraft to be leased from BA and Aérospatiale respectively, to be maintained by either BA or Air France. BCal's envisaged two-Concorde fleet would have required a high level of aircraft usage to be cost-effective therefore, BCal had decided to operate the second aircraft on a supersonic service between Gatwick and Atlanta, with a stopover at either Gander or Halifax. [181] Consideration was given to services to Houston and various points on its South American network at a later stage. [187] [188] Both supersonic services were to be launched at some point during 1980 however, steeply rising oil prices caused by the 1979 energy crisis led to BCal shelving their supersonic ambitions. [184]

British Airways buys its Concordes outright Edit

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. A cost projection came back with greatly reduced metallurgical testing costs because the test rig for the wings had built up enough data to last for 30 years and could be shut down. Despite this, the government was not keen to continue. In 1983, BA's managing director, Sir John King, convinced the government to sell the aircraft outright to the then state-owned British Airways for £16.5 million plus the first year's profits. [189] [190] In 2003, Lord Heseltine, who was the Minister responsible at the time, revealed to Alan Robb on BBC Radio 5 Live, that the aircraft had been sold for "next to nothing". Asked by Robb if it was the worst deal ever negotiated by a government minister, he replied "That is probably right. But if you have your hands tied behind your back and no cards and a very skillful negotiator on the other side of the table. I defy you to do any [better]." [191] British Airways was subsequently privatised in 1987.

Operating economics Edit

In 1983, Pan American accused the British Government of subsidising British Airways Concorde air fares, on which a return London–New York was £2,399 (£8,154 in 2019 prices), compared to £1,986 (£6,751) with a subsonic first class return, and London–Washington return was £2,426 (£8,246) instead of £2,258 (£7,675) subsonic. [192] [193] [194]

Research revealed that passengers thought that the fare was higher than it actually was, so the airline raised ticket prices to match these perceptions. [74] [195] It is reported that British Airways then ran Concorde at a profit. [196] [197]

Its estimated operating costs were $3,800 per block hour in 1972 (equivalent to $23,510 in 2020), compared to actual 1971 operating costs of $1,835 for a 707 and $3,500 for a 747 (equivalent to $11,726 and $22,366, respectively) for a 3,050 nmi (5,650 km) London–New York sector, a 707 cost $13,750 or 3.04¢ per seat/nmi (in 1971 dollars), a 747 $26,200 or 2.4¢ per seat/nmi and Concorde $14,250 or 4.5¢ per seat/nmi. [198] Concorde's unit cost was then $33.8 million [199] ($160 million in 2019 dollars [200] ).

Other services Edit

Between March 1984 and January 1991, British Airways flew a thrice-weekly Concorde service between London and Miami, stopping at Washington Dulles International Airport. [201] [202] Until 2003, Air France and British Airways continued to operate the New York services daily. From 1987 to 2003 British Airways flew a Saturday morning Concorde service to Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados, during the summer and winter holiday season. [203] [204]

Prior to the Air France Paris crash, several UK and French tour operators operated charter flights to European destinations on a regular basis [205] [206] the charter business was viewed as lucrative by British Airways and Air France. [207]

In 1997, British Airways held a promotional contest to mark the 10th anniversary of the airline's move into the private sector. The promotion was a lottery to fly to New York held for 190 tickets valued at £5,400 each, to be offered at £10. Contestants had to call a special hotline to compete with up to 20 million people. [208]

Retirement Edit

On 10 April 2003, Air France and British Airways simultaneously announced they would retire Concorde later that year. [209] They cited low passenger numbers following the 25 July 2000 crash, the slump in air travel following the September 11 attacks, and rising maintenance costs: Airbus, the company that acquired Aerospatiale in 2000, had made a decision in 2003 to no longer supply replacement parts for the aircraft. Although Concorde was technologically advanced when introduced in the 1970s, 30 years later, its analogue cockpit was outdated. 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. [210] By its retirement, it was the last aircraft in the British Airways fleet that had a flight engineer other aircraft, such as the modernised 747-400, had eliminated the role. [211]

On 11 April 2003, Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson announced that the company was interested in purchasing British Airways' Concorde fleet "for the same price that they were given them for – one pound". [212] [213] British Airways dismissed the idea, prompting Virgin to increase their offer to £1 million each. [214] [215] 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. [216] 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". [217] The chances for keeping Concorde in service were stifled by Airbus's lack of support for continued maintenance. [218] [219] [N 6]

It has been suggested that Concorde was not withdrawn for the reasons usually given but that it became apparent during the grounding of Concorde that the airlines could make more profit carrying first-class passengers subsonically. [220] A lack of commitment to Concorde from Director of Engineering Alan MacDonald was cited as having undermined BA's resolve to continue operating Concorde. [221]

Other reasons why the attempted revival of Concorde never happened relate to the fact that the narrow fuselage did not allow for "luxury" features of subsonic air travel such as moving space, reclining seats and overall comfort. [222] In the words of The Guardian's Dave Hall, "Concorde was an outdated notion of prestige that left sheer speed the only luxury of supersonic travel." [222]

Air France Edit

Air France made its final commercial Concorde landing in the United States in New York City from Paris on 30 May 2003. [223] [224] Air France's final Concorde flight took place on 27 June 2003 when F-BVFC retired to Toulouse. [225]

An auction of Concorde parts and memorabilia for Air France was held at Christie's in Paris on 15 November 2003 1,300 people attended, and several lots exceeded their predicted values. [226] French Concorde F-BVFC was retired to Toulouse and kept functional for a short time after the end of service, in case taxi runs were required in support of the French judicial enquiry into the 2000 crash. [227] The aircraft is now fully retired and no longer functional. [228]

French Concorde F-BTSD has been retired to the "Musée de l'Air" at Paris–Le Bourget Airport near Paris unlike the other museum Concordes, a few of the systems are being kept functional. For instance, the famous "droop nose" can still be lowered and raised. This led to rumours that they could be prepared for future flights for special occasions. [229]

French Concorde F-BVFB is at the Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim at Sinsheim, Germany, after its last flight from Paris to Baden-Baden, followed by a spectacular transport to Sinsheim via barge and road. The museum also has a Tupolev Tu-144 on display – this is the only place where both supersonic airliners can be seen together. [230]

In 1989, Air France signed a letter of agreement to donate a Concorde to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. upon the aircraft's retirement. On 12 June 2003, Air France honoured that agreement, donating Concorde F-BVFA (serial 205) to the Museum upon the completion of its last flight. This aircraft was the first Air France Concorde to open service to Rio de Janeiro, Washington, D.C., and New York and had flown 17,824 hours. It is on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport. [231]

British Airways Edit

British Airways conducted a North American farewell tour in October 2003. G-BOAG visited Toronto Pearson International Airport on 1 October, after which it flew to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. [232] G-BOAD visited Boston's Logan International Airport on 8 October, and G-BOAG visited Washington Dulles International Airport on 14 October. [233]

In a week of farewell flights around the United Kingdom, Concorde visited Birmingham on 20 October, Belfast on 21 October, Manchester on 22 October, Cardiff on 23 October, and Edinburgh on 24 October. Each day the aircraft made a return flight out and back into Heathrow to the cities, often overflying them at low altitude. [234] [235] [236] On 22 October, both Concorde flight BA9021C, a special from Manchester, and BA002 from New York landed simultaneously on both of Heathrow's runways. On 23 October 2003, the Queen consented to the illumination of Windsor Castle, an honour reserved for state events and visiting dignitaries, as Concorde's last west-bound commercial flight departed London. [237]

British Airways retired its Concorde fleet on 24 October 2003. [1] G-BOAG left New York to a fanfare similar to that given for Air France's F-BTSD, while two more made round trips, G-BOAF over the Bay of Biscay, carrying VIP guests including former Concorde pilots, and G-BOAE to Edinburgh. The three aircraft then circled over London, having received special permission to fly at low altitude, before landing in sequence at Heathrow. The captain of the New York to London flight was Mike Bannister. [238] The final flight of a Concorde in the US occurred on 5 November 2003 when G-BOAG flew from New York's JFK Airport to Seattle's Boeing Field to join the Museum of Flight's permanent collection. The plane was piloted by Mike Bannister and Les Broadie, who claimed a flight time of three hours, 55 minutes and 12 seconds, a record between the two cities that was made possible by Canada granting use of a supersonic corridor between Chibougamau, Quebec and Peace River, Alberta. [239] The museum had been pursuing a Concorde for their collection since 1984. [240] The final flight of a Concorde worldwide took place on 26 November 2003 with a landing at Filton, Bristol, UK. [241]

All of BA's Concorde fleet have been grounded, drained of hydraulic fluid and their airworthiness certificates withdrawn. Jock Lowe, ex-chief Concorde pilot and manager of the fleet estimated in 2004 that it would cost £10–15 million to make G-BOAF airworthy again. [229] BA maintain ownership and have stated that they will not fly again due to a lack of support from Airbus. [242] On 1 December 2003, Bonhams held an auction of British Airways Concorde artefacts, including a nose cone, at Kensington Olympia in London. [243] [244] Proceeds of around £750,000 were raised, with the majority going to charity. G-BOAD is currently on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York. [245] In 2007, BA announced that the advertising spot at Heathrow where a 40% scale model of Concorde was located would not be retained the model is now on display at the Brooklands Museum, in Surrey, England. [246]

Displays and restoration Edit

Concorde G-BBDG was used for test flying and trials work. It was retired in 1981 and then only used for spares. It was dismantled and transported by road from Filton to the Brooklands Museum in Surrey where it was restored from essentially a shell. [247] It remains open to visitors to the museum, and wears the original Negus & Negus livery worn by the Concorde fleet during their initial years of service with BA.

Concorde G-BOAB, nicknamed Alpha Bravo, was never modified and returned to service with the rest of British Airways' fleet, and has remained at London Heathrow Airport since its final flight, a ferry flight from JFK in 2000. [248] Although the aircraft was effectively retired, G-BOAB was used as a test aircraft for the Project Rocket interiors that were in the process of being added to the rest of BA's fleet. [249] G-BOAB has been towed around Heathrow on various occasions it currently occupies a space on the airport's apron and is regularly visible to aircraft moving around the airport. [250]

One of the youngest Concordes (F-BTSD) is on display at Le Bourget Air and Space Museum in Paris. In February 2010, it was announced that the museum and a group of volunteer Air France technicians intend to restore F-BTSD so it can taxi under its own power. [251] In May 2010, it was reported that the British Save Concorde Group and French Olympus 593 groups had begun inspecting the engines of a Concorde at the French museum their intent was to restore the airliner to a condition where it could fly in demonstrations. [252]

G-BOAF forms the centrepiece of the Aerospace Bristol museum at Filton, which opened to the public in 2017. [253]

Air France Flight 4590 Edit

On 25 July 2000, Air France Flight 4590, registration F-BTSC, crashed in Gonesse, France, after departing from Charles de Gaulle Airport en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, killing all 100 passengers and nine crew members on board as well as four people on the ground. It was the only fatal accident involving Concorde. This crash also damaged Concorde's reputation and caused both British Airways and Air France to temporarily ground their fleets until modifications that involved strengthening the affected areas of the aircraft.

According to the official investigation conducted by the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA), the crash was caused by a metallic strip that had fallen from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off minutes earlier. This fragment punctured a tyre on Concorde's left main wheel bogie during take-off. The tyre exploded, and a piece of rubber hit the fuel tank, which caused a fuel leak and led to a fire. The crew shut down engine number 2 in response to a fire warning, and with engine number 1 surging and producing little power, the aircraft was unable to gain altitude or speed. The aircraft entered a rapid pitch-up then a sudden descent, rolling left and crashing tail-low into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel in Gonesse. [256]

The claim that a metallic strip caused the crash was disputed during the trial both by witnesses (including the pilot of then French President Jacques Chirac's aircraft that had just landed on an adjacent runway when Flight 4590 caught fire) and by an independent French TV investigation that found a wheel spacer had not been installed in the left-side main gear and that the plane caught fire some 1,000 feet from where the metallic strip lay. [257] British investigators and former French Concorde pilots looked at several other possibilities that the BEA report ignored, including an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks and loose landing gear. They came to the conclusion that the Concorde veered off course on the runway, which reduced takeoff speed below the crucial minimum. John Hutchinson, who had served as a Concorde captain for 15 years with British Airways, said "the fire on its own should have been 'eminently survivable the pilot should have been able to fly his way out of trouble'", had it not been for a "lethal combination of operational error and 'negligence' by the maintenance department of Air France" that "nobody wants to talk about". [258] [259] [260]

On 6 December 2010, Continental Airlines and John Taylor, a mechanic who installed the metal strip, were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter [261] however, on 30 November 2012, a French court overturned the conviction, saying mistakes by Continental and Taylor did not make them criminally responsible. [262]

Before the accident, Concorde had been arguably the safest operational passenger airliner in the world with zero passenger deaths-per-kilometres travelled but there had been two prior non-fatal accidents and a rate of tyre damage some 30 times higher than subsonic airliners from 1995 to 2000. [263] [264] [265] [266] Safety improvements were made in the wake of the crash, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining on the fuel tanks and specially developed burst-resistant tyres. [267] The first flight with the modifications departed from London Heathrow on 17 July 2001, piloted by BA Chief Concorde Pilot Mike Bannister. During the 3-hour 20-minute flight over the mid-Atlantic towards Iceland, Bannister attained Mach 2.02 and 60,000 ft (18,000 m) before returning to RAF Brize Norton. The test flight, intended to resemble the London–New York route, was declared a success and was watched on live TV, and by crowds on the ground at both locations. [268]

The first flight with passengers after the events of 11 September 2001, landed shortly before the World Trade Center attacks in the United States. This was not a commercial flight: all the passengers were BA employees. [269] Normal commercial operations resumed on 7 November 2001 by BA and AF (aircraft G-BOAE and F-BTSD), with service to New York JFK, where Mayor Rudy Giuliani greeted the passengers. [270] [271]

Other accidents and incidents Edit

Concorde had suffered two previous non-fatal accidents that were similar to each other.

  • 12 April 1989: A Concorde of British registration, G-BOAF, on a chartered flight from Christchurch, New Zealand, to Sydney, suffered a structural failure in-flight at supersonic speed. As the aircraft was climbing and accelerating through Mach 1.7, a "thud" was heard. The crew did not notice any handling problems, and they assumed the thud they heard was a minor engine surge. No further difficulty was encountered until descent through 40,000 feet at Mach 1.3, when a vibration was felt throughout the aircraft, lasting two to three minutes. Most of the upper rudder had become separated from the aircraft at this point. Aircraft handling was unaffected, and the aircraft made a safe landing at Sydney. The UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) concluded that the skin of the rudder had been separating from the rudder structure over a period of time before the accident due to moisture seepage past the rivets in the rudder. Furthermore, production staff had not followed proper procedures during an earlier modification of the rudder, but the procedures were difficult to adhere to. [263] The aircraft was repaired and returned to service. [263]
  • 21 March 1992: A Concorde of British registration, G-BOAB, on a scheduled flight from London to New York, also suffered a structural failure in-flight at supersonic speed. While cruising at Mach 2, at approximately 53,000 feet above mean sea level, the crew heard a "thump". No difficulties in handling were noticed, and no instruments gave any irregular indications. This crew also suspected there had been a minor engine surge. One hour later, during descent and while decelerating below Mach 1.4, a sudden "severe" vibration began throughout the aircraft. [264] The vibration worsened when power was added to the No 2 engine, and it was attenuated when that engine's power was reduced. The crew shut down the No 2 engine and made a successful landing in New York, noting only that increased rudder control was needed to keep the aircraft on its intended approach course. Again, the skin had become separated from the structure of the rudder, which led to most of the upper rudder becoming separated in-flight. The AAIB concluded that repair materials had leaked into the structure of the rudder during a recent repair, weakening the bond between the skin and the structure of the rudder, leading to it breaking up in-flight. The large size of the repair had made it difficult to keep repair materials out of the structure, and prior to this accident, the severity of the effect of these repair materials on the structure and skin of the rudder was not appreciated. [264]
  • The 2010 trial involving Continental Airlines over the crash of Flight 4590 established that from 1976 until Flight 4590 there had been 57 tyre failures involving Concordes during takeoffs, including a near-crash at Dulles Airport on 14 June 1979 involving Air France Flight 54 where a tyre blowout pierced the plane's fuel tank and damaged the port-side engine and electrical cables, with the loss of two of the craft's hydraulic systems. [272]

Of the 20 aircraft built, [2] 18 remain in good condition. Many are on display at museums in the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany, and Barbados.

Tu-144 Edit

The only supersonic airliner in direct competition with Concorde was the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, nicknamed "Concordski" by Western European journalists for its outward similarity to Concorde. [273] It had been alleged that Soviet espionage efforts had resulted in the theft of Concorde blueprints, supposedly to assist in the design of the Tu-144. [274] As a result of a rushed development programme, the first Tu-144 prototype was substantially different from the preproduction machines, but both were cruder than Concorde. The Tu-144S had a significantly shorter range than Concorde. Jean Rech, Sud Aviation, attributed this to two things, [275] a very heavy powerplant with an intake twice as long as that on Concorde, and low-bypass turbofan engines with too-high a bypass ratio which needed afterburning for cruise. The aircraft had poor control at low speeds because of a simpler supersonic wing design. In addition the Tu-144 required braking parachutes to land while Concorde used anti-lock brakes. [276] The Tu-144 had two crashes, one at the 1973 Paris Air Show, [277] [278] and another during a pre-delivery test flight in May 1978. [279] [280]

The later production Tu-144 versions were more refined and competitive. The Tu-144D had Kolesov RD-36-51 turbojet engines providing greater fuel efficiency, cruising speed and a maximum range of 6,500 km, [281] near the Concorde's maximum range of 6,667 km. [282] Passenger service commenced in November 1977, but after the 1978 crash the aircraft was taken out of passenger service after only 55 flights, which carried an average of 58 passengers. The Tu-144 had an inherently unsafe structural design as a consequence of an automated production method chosen to simplify and speed up manufacturing. [283] The Tu-144 program was cancelled by the Soviet government on 1 July 1983. [281]

SST and others Edit

The American designs, the "SST" project (for Supersonic Transport) were the Boeing 2707 and the Lockheed L-2000. These were to have been larger, with seating for up to 300 people. [284] [285] Running a few years behind Concorde, the Boeing 2707 was redesigned to a cropped delta layout the extra cost of these changes helped to kill the project. [286] The operation of US military aircraft such as the Mach 3+ North American XB-70 Valkyrie prototypes and Convair B-58 Hustler strategic nuclear bomber had shown that sonic booms were quite capable of reaching the ground, [287] and the experience from the Oklahoma City sonic boom tests led to the same environmental concerns that hindered the commercial success of Concorde. The American government cancelled its SST project in 1971, after having spent more than $1 billion. [288]

The only other large supersonic aircraft comparable to Concorde are strategic bombers, principally the Soviet Tu-22, Tu-22M, M-50 (experimental), T-4 (experimental), Tu-160 and the American XB-70 (experimental) and B-1. [ citation needed ]

Environmental Edit

Before Concorde's flight trials, developments in the civil aviation industry were largely accepted by governments and their respective electorates. Opposition to Concorde's noise, particularly on the east coast of the United States, [289] [290] forged a new political agenda on both sides of the Atlantic, with scientists and technology experts across a multitude of industries beginning to take the environmental and social impact more seriously. [291] [292] Although Concorde led directly to the introduction of a general noise abatement programme for aircraft flying out of John F. Kennedy Airport, many found that Concorde was quieter than expected, [74] partly due to the pilots temporarily throttling back their engines to reduce noise during overflight of residential areas. [293] Even before commercial flights started, it had been claimed that Concorde was quieter than many other aircraft. [294] In 1971, BAC's technical director was quoted as saying, "It is certain on present evidence and calculations that in the airport context, production Concordes will be no worse than aircraft now in service and will in fact be better than many of them." [295]

Concorde produced nitrogen oxides in its exhaust, which, despite complicated interactions with other ozone-depleting chemicals, are understood to result in degradation to the ozone layer at the stratospheric altitudes it cruised. [296] It has been pointed out that other, lower-flying, airliners produce ozone during their flights in the troposphere, but vertical transit of gases between the layers is restricted. The small fleet meant overall ozone-layer degradation caused by Concorde was negligible. [296] In 1995, David Fahey, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, warned that a fleet of 500 supersonic aircraft with exhausts similar to Concorde might produce a 2 percent drop in global ozone levels, much higher than previously thought. Each 1 percent drop in ozone is estimated to increase the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer worldwide by 2 percent. Dr Fahey said if these particles are produced by highly oxidised sulphur in the fuel, as he believed, then removing sulphur in the fuel will reduce the ozone-destroying impact of supersonic transport. [297]

Concorde's technical leap forward boosted the public's understanding of conflicts between technology and the environment as well as awareness of the complex decision analysis processes that surround such conflicts. [298] In France, the use of acoustic fencing alongside TGV tracks might not have been achieved without the 1970s controversy over aircraft noise. [299] In the UK, the CPRE has issued tranquillity maps since 1990. [300]

Public perception Edit

Concorde was normally perceived as a privilege of the rich, but special circular or one-way (with return by other flight or ship) charter flights were arranged to bring a trip within the means of moderately well-off enthusiasts. [301]

The aircraft was usually referred to by the British as simply "Concorde". [302] In France it was known as "le Concorde" due to "le", the definite article, [303] used in French grammar to introduce the name of a ship or aircraft, [304] and the capital being used to distinguish a proper name from a common noun of the same spelling. [303] [305] In French, the common noun concorde means "agreement, harmony, or peace". [N 7] Concorde's pilots and British Airways in official publications often refer to Concorde both in the singular and plural as "she" or "her". [307] [N 8]

As a symbol of national pride, an example from the BA fleet made occasional flypasts at selected Royal events, major air shows and other special occasions, sometimes in formation with the Red Arrows. [308] On the final day of commercial service, public interest was so great that grandstands were erected at Heathrow Airport. Significant numbers of people attended the final landings the event received widespread media coverage. [309]

In 2006, 37 years after its first test flight, Concorde was announced the winner of the Great British Design Quest organised by the BBC and the Design Museum. A total of 212,000 votes were cast with Concorde beating other British design icons such as the Mini, mini skirt, Jaguar E-Type, Tube map, the World Wide Web, K2 telephone box and the Supermarine Spitfire. [310] [311]

Special missions Edit

The heads of France and the United Kingdom flew in Concorde many times. [312] Presidents Georges Pompidou, [313] Valéry Giscard d'Estaing [314] and François Mitterrand [315] regularly used Concorde as French flagman aircraft in foreign visits. Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Ministers Edward Heath, Jim Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair took Concorde in some charter flights such as the Queen's trips to Barbados on her Silver Jubilee in 1977, in 1987 and in 2003, to the Middle East in 1984 and to the United States in 1991. [316] Pope John Paul II flew on Concorde in May 1989. [317]

Concorde sometimes made special flights for demonstrations, air shows (such as the Farnborough, Paris-LeBourget, Oshkosh AirVenture and MAKS air shows) as well as parades and celebrations (for example, of Zurich Airport's anniversary in 1998). The aircraft were also used for private charters (including by the President of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko on multiple occasions), [318] for advertising companies (including for the firm OKI), for Olympic torch relays (1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville) and for observing solar eclipses, including the solar eclipse of June 30, 1973 [156] [319] [320] and again for the total solar eclipse on August 11, 1999. [321]

Records Edit

The fastest transatlantic airliner flight was from New York JFK to London Heathrow on 7 February 1996 by the British Airways G-BOAD in 2 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds from take-off to touchdown aided by a 175 mph (282 km/h) tailwind. [322] On 13 February 1985, a Concorde charter flight flew from London Heathrow to Sydney—on the opposite side of the world—in a time of 17 hours, 3 minutes and 45 seconds, including refuelling stops. [323] [324]

Concorde also set other records, including the official FAI "Westbound Around the World" and "Eastbound Around the World" world air speed records. [325] On 12–13 October 1992, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first New World landing, Concorde Spirit Tours (US) chartered Air France Concorde F-BTSD and circumnavigated the world in 32 hours 49 minutes and 3 seconds, from Lisbon, Portugal, including six refuelling stops at Santo Domingo, Acapulco, Honolulu, Guam, Bangkok, and Bahrain. [326]

The eastbound record was set by the same Air France Concorde (F-BTSD) under charter to Concorde Spirit Tours [320] in the US on 15–16 August 1995. This promotional flight circumnavigated the world from New York/JFK International Airport in 31 hours 27 minutes 49 seconds, including six refuelling stops at Toulouse, Dubai, Bangkok, Andersen AFB in Guam, Honolulu, and Acapulco. [327] By its 30th flight anniversary on 2 March 1999 Concorde had clocked up 920,000 flight hours, with more than 600,000 supersonic, many more than all of the other supersonic aircraft in the Western world combined. [328]

On its way to the Museum of Flight in November 2003, G-BOAG set a New York City-to-Seattle speed record of 3 hours, 55 minutes, and 12 seconds. Due to the restrictions on supersonic overflights within the US the flight was granted permission by the Canadian authorities for the majority of the journey to be flown supersonically over sparsely-populated Canadian territory. [329]

Data from The Wall Street Journal, [211] The Concorde Story, [330] The International Directory of Civil Aircraft, [76] Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde 1969 onwards (all models) [331]

Remembering Air France Flight 4590 Concorde Crash

Throughout history, air travel was associated with luxury and exclusivity. High ticket prices filtered out the passengers, making aviation an extravagant way to travel for the top 1% of the people.

If you were to google the phrase “Golden age of aviation”, you would be surprised – as if passengers traveled on 3-star Michelin restaurants in the sky, rather than plain metal tubes we are used to see today.

But even so, one aircraft became synonymous with luxury travel when it first made its debut commercial flight in 1976.

With ticket prices as high as $9,000 for a round-trip above the Atlantic, only a very limited number of people could even come close to being able to afford a journey on the Concorde.

The eleganza extravaganza ended in 2003 when both British Airways and Air France scheduled the last flights for the supersonic jet.

And it all started with Air France Flight 4590 in 2000.

The official report by BEA, released on January 2002, determined that a metal strip from Continental Airlines DC-10 destroyed one of the jet’s tires. As a result, the debris from the tire punctured a fuel tank, causing a huge flame to erupt under the wing of Concorde.

The public settled on the fact that the metal strip was to be blamed for the accident. Furthermore, a French court in 2010 charged Continental Airlines and John Taylor, a mechanic who worked for the airline, with involuntary manslaughter.

The charge was overturned in 2012, clearing both the now-defunct airline and the mechanic of any charges.

So, if the court deemed Continental Airlines not responsible for the accident, what could have caused the crash?

A brewing disaster

Concorde was a true technological marvel there are no doubts about it. However, the supersonic jet had its fair share of issues, especially with tires. The New York Times wrote an article in November 1981, reporting NTSB’s “serious concern” about the safety of the Concorde’s tires. Four separate incidents involving different Air France Concorde frames were recorded between 1979 and 1981. In addition, a British Airways Concorde also suffered a tire blowout on August 9, 1981, during take-off from New York JFK airport.

The same article highlights the first tire blowout in Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) in June 1979, which the NTSB described as following:

“Tire debris and wheel shrapnel resulted in damage to the No. 2 engine, puncture of three fuel tanks, and severance of several hydraulic lines and electrical wires. Additionally, a large hole was torn in the top wing skin”.

The BEA, the French agency that investigates aviation accidents and incidents, has laid out these recommendations in June 1980, following the 1979 Washington Dulles (IAD) incident:

· A device within the cockpit that informs the pilots about a deflated tire

· Improve the durability of the tires during takeoff and landing

· Improve the durability of the wheel after an event when the tire deflates

· Upgrade the FDR so that it would show the condition of the hydraulic system

· Force pilots to wear headsets, with two different recordings that would show up on the FDR.

The NTSB also raised concerns regarding continuous tire issues in 1981. In the safety recommendation, the board noted that even after Air France had issued a Technical Information Update to pilots to inspect the tires before takeoff and not to raise the landing gear after a tire problem is heard, the NTSB had to repeat the same instructions once again.

British Airways Concorde tire blowouts

British Airways had its own fair share of cases of Concorde tire explosions. However, unlike Air France, the British airline made significant changes to the design of Concorde wheels.

In 1993, in a span of five months, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch concluded two reports on two separate Concorde incidents that resulted in damage to fuel tanks.

The first incident occurred in July 1993 at London Heathrow Airport (LHR), when a British Airways Concorde, registered as G-BOAF, landed from New York (JFK). After landing smoothly and applying reverse thrust, the pilot applied wheel brakes. The flight crew instantly felt a bang and a warning light lit up in the cockpit, warning the crew about issues with the wheel brake system. After coming to a stop by using reverse thrust, the aircraft safely returned to the gate.

Nevertheless, investigators discovered that in addition to the damage to the No. 3 engine, the debris also punctured the No. 8 fuel tank. Luckily, it was empty, thus a potentially fatal disaster was avoided.

Under very similar circumstances, the second incident happened in October 1993. Unlike the previously mentioned fuel tank puncture, this time the supersonic jet was taxiing to the runway when the captain of the Concorde applied the brakes. Firstly, the aircraft moved in an unusual way. As the captain re-applied the brakes, the flight crew heard a loud bang.

Subsequently, the captain applied the emergency brakes and the Concorde came to a halt. As the flight systems showcased multiple warning lights, including issues with tires and wheel brakes, the PIC opened his window and conducted a visual inspection of the aircraft. He noticed that fuel leaking from the left side of the aircraft.

The pilots shut off the No. 1 and No. 2 engines. Later inspections revealed that 50% of a water deflector from the No. 2 tire was missing, which punctured the No.1 fuel tank, located on the left side of the aircraft.

Changes to the design and Air France negligence

Following the events in 1993, British Airways ordered a change to the wheel structure. To stop a water deflector from puncturing a tank in an event of a tire blowout, new water deflectors would be held by a cable attached to the body of Concorde.

While British Airways did implement this change in 1995, Air France did not. Separate articles, released by CNN and The Independent on August 3, 2000, and August 4, 2000, respectively, report this.

At that time, the airline stated that “under French civil aviation rules it had not been obliged to introduce the modification, which it said would not stop the deflectors coming away from the undercarriage”.

However, a British Airways spokeswoman told The Independent that “the cable holds the deflector together”.

But the two dailies published their articles a week after Air France Flight 4590 took off with flames emitting from its engines.

So, what happened on July 25, 2000, at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG)?

Air France Flight 4590 crashes

The flight started out as normal, according to the BEA report. 30 minutes before the flight was supposed to take off, the flight crew came in contact with the control tower to request for the whole of Runway 26R for a scheduled take off at 14:30.

At 14:07, ATC gave the green light for the supersonic airliner to begin take-off procedures, including taxiing to the holding point. ATC cleared the Concorde to line up at 14:40 and cleared the flight to take off at 14:42. Shortly after, the captain of the flight began taking off and called V1. A few seconds later, the Concorde ran over a titanium metal strip, which destroyed the No. 2 tire and, subsequently, the debris of the tire punctured the No 5. fuel tank. The fuel ignited instantly and engines No. 1 and No. 2 lost thrust.

As the captain commenced rotation of the aircraft to lift off the ground, ATC contacted the crew and confirmed a huge flame at the back of the aircraft.

The first officer informed the ATC that they would attempt to land at Le Bourget (LBG). However, the aircraft never reached Le Bourget and at 14:44 crashed into a hotel in Gonesse, claiming the lives of 109 people on board and 4 people that were present at Hotel Relais Bleus.

In just a matter of 2 minutes, the course of aviation history changed forever. While the Concorde flew again a year later, both Air France and British Airways sealed the story of supersonic travel in 2003, when the last Concorde flight landed in London Heathrow Airport on October 24, 2003.

But why did the Concorde crash, if several almost identical incidents happened in the 80s and 90s, without claiming a single life?

Circumstances and fundamental design problems

While the Concorde was one of the greatest engineering feats ever to be achieved by aviation engineers, in order to fly at the speeds the aircraft flew at, several compromises had to be made.

The aircraft was very efficient at supersonic speeds but had a lot of issues when traveling above land and during airport procedures. The Rolls-Royce Olympus turbojets engines were very thirsty for gas, especially at subsonic speeds – the Concorde was able to hold 119 280 liters of fuel, which equals to 94 470 kilograms (208270 lbs).

If needed, the Concorde could hold an extra 1 630 liters of fuel, achieved by an overfill procedure while the aircraft was on the ground.

All in all, the Concorde was certified to carry a maximum takeoff weight of 185 070 kilograms (408009 lbs).

As mentioned above, the supersonic airliner was plagued by continuous tires issues due to its design. Throughout the history of Concorde, there were more than 50 events of the jet suffering tire blowouts or wheel damage.

So, this was the first link in the chain of events that led to the disaster of Flight 4590.

Secondly, the tire that suffered a blowout was the No. 2 tire on the left landing gear. According to the BEA report, the tire was the second most-worn tire on the Concorde – it went through 37 flight cycles.

With this in mind, the accident report also highlights the fact that the Concorde carried more weight than it was supposed to. BEA notes that “aircraft’s takeoff weight in fact exceeded the maximum weight by about one ton”. However, the agency also says that “any effect on takeoff performance from this excess weight was negligible”.

Nevertheless, extra weight on a pretty worn-out tire that will run over a titanium metal strip on the runway might have contributed to the chain of events.

A few seconds after the captain announced V1, which is the speed at which the captain should not attempt to abort take-off procedures, the No. 2 tire overran the titanium metal strip, which fell out of the Continental Airlines DC-10.

While the Air France and NTSB issued instructions in 1980 and 1981 for pilots to not raise landing gear during a wheel or tire failure, the fact that the crew was unable to raise the landing gear contributed to the accident. The pilots were unable to properly gain altitude due to the landing gear staying down and constant airflow kept the fire alive, as outlined in the BEA report.


After the July 25 events, aviation authorities suspended the type certificate of Concorde, until operators could guarantee the safety of the supersonic jet. The BEA report also highlighted the must-have changes to Concorde:

· Kevlar lining to bolster the main fuel tanks, thus reducing the flow of fuel after a leak and subsequently, reducing the chances of sustained fire

· Newly developed Michelin NZG tires, which are more resistant to foreign object damage

· Reinforcement of the electrical wiring in the main landing gear bays

· Changes to the water deflectors, antiskid protocols, flat tire detection systems and brake cooling were also issued.

When Concorde returned to commercial passenger service on November 7, 2001, both airlines realized that the end of supersonic travel was near. Low passenger numbers following the Air France crash, a general slump in the industry after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and Airbus’ refusal to provide maintenance for Concorde all contributed to the last pages of Concorde’s history.

10 years ago in aviation now seems like an eternity. The numerous airline mergers and acquisitions, new aircraft models released, security regulations imposed, and various other incidents have seemed to clear our memory of one of the most tragic Pre-9/11 air crashes. I’m writing about this rather unusual topic because today, July 25th, 2010 is exactly 10 years from the day when the Air France Concorde crashed on takeoff outside Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

While the crash of the supersonic airliner that could fly at twice the speed of sound has faded into the distant past of most flyers today, it’s an event that remains vivid in my memory. As a 7-year old visiting Europe for the first time, I didn’t fully understand the enormous distance separating the two continents but I did understand how we were going to get home on that hot summer afternoon in Paris. Let me explain.

My family was about to return home from a two-week vacation visiting the highlights of southern England and northern France, and we had already endured a lengthy 7 hour flight from Newark – London on the powerful wide-body DC-10 airplane. I remember jokingly discussing the possibility of using frequent flier miles to pay for the quick but expensive trip home on the Concorde, but those thoughts vanished. In hopes of a bit more entertainment for the flight home, my older brother researched the aircraft that was scheduled to fly us home from Paris. The originally scheduled aircraft that was supposed to operate the flight was the brand new 777-200 aircraft which had just been delivered to Continental only a couple months earlier at the turn of the century. The entertaining advantage on the 777 was that everyone on the plane would have their own television to watch movies and play games, a concept that revolutionized in-flight entertainment 10 years ago.

To our disappointment the Continental aircraft that was waiting at the gate to take us back home was a DC-10. The equipment swap which took place in Newark a day earlier eventually turned out to be the source of crash which was according to investigators, the result of a titanium strip falling off the DC-10 onto the runway. After several years of investigation, French authorities concluded that a piece of titanium metal fell off the Continental plane which my family was flying home on, and then the metal caused the tire on the Concorde to explode. Once the tire exploded, the pieces of tire were ingested, which immediately started a fire in the Concorde’s engines, leaving the Concorde with no thrust and a tragic crash resulted.

My most striking memory is when we taxied to the runway past the Air France Concorde that day, I remember seeing the passengers climb the stairs from the tarmac onto the plane, self assured that they would be safe and sound in New York just 3 hours later. When my family did arrive safely 8 hours later at Newark Airport on-board the Continental DC-10, we learned about the crash and were completely confused and astonished knowing that such a tragic event had happened just minutes after we left France. In total, 109 passengers died on-board and 4 others on the ground. The crash also lead to the eventual end of the Concorde service as new maintenance requirements became too expensive for Air France and British Airways, combined with reduced passenger traffic due to the 9/11 attacks. Today a ceremony in Paris was held to honor the victims of the crash at the crash site in Gonesse, France. The two Continental mechanics who were responsible for installing the titanium strip are currently under manslaughter charges, and the ruling on the case will be determined in December later this year.

For more information on the crash, take a look at this video documenting the event-

Correction (Thanks to gvb of Y-Combinator news):
The official cause of the crash is more complex than the explanation above. According to Wikipedia–
“During the Concorde’s subsequent take-off run, this piece of debris, still lying on the runway, ruptured a tyre which then burst. A large chunk of this (4.5 kilograms or 9.9 lb) struck the underside of the aircraft’s wing structure at well over 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph). Although it did not directly puncture any of the fuel tanks, it sent out a pressure shockwave that eventually ruptured the number five fuel tank at the weakest point, just above the landing gear. Leaking fuel rushing over the top of the wing was ignited by an electric arc in the landing gear bay or through contact with severed electrical cables.”

Air France flight 4590

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Air France flight 4590, flight of a Concorde supersonic airplane that crashed in Gonesse, a suburb of Paris, on July 25, 2000. The airplane went down in flames almost immediately after takeoff, killing all 109 people on board and 4 others on the ground. It was the first fatal crash of a Concorde in 24 years of regular passenger service. The event is believed to have hastened the end of all Concorde operations in 2003.

Flight 4590 was a charter flight from Paris to New York City. The aircraft was an Air France Concorde, registration number F-BTSC. Most of the passengers were German tourists on their way to board a Caribbean-bound cruise ship in New York City. At approximately 4:43 pm the plane began its takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport. However, as it accelerated down the runway, ground observers noticed a fire on the left side, under the wing. The aircraft veered left on the runway, and, at about the time it left the ground, one of the two left-side engines failed. The pilot was unable to climb higher than about 200 feet (60 metres), and, about 90 seconds after the commencement of takeoff, the other left-side engine failed. At this point the aircraft dropped from the sky and crashed into a small hotel and restaurant in suburban Gonesse. All on board—100 passengers and 9 crew members—died. In addition, four people on the ground perished, and six others suffered injuries.

Air France grounded its remaining Concordes immediately British Airways, the only other operator of the aircraft, followed suit in August. Both airlines resumed service in November 2001, but less than two years after that, all Concorde service ceased permanently.

A French government investigation into the crash later determined that the Concorde ran over a strip of metal on the runway, causing a tire to blow out. A large fragment of rubber then struck a fuel tank on the underside of the wing. (Fuel accounted for more than half the total weight of the fully loaded Concorde.) The impact most likely led the completely full tank to rupture from within. The spilling fuel quickly ignited, probably from an electrical arc in the landing gear wiring, and the fire caused the engines to fail.

The strip of metal on the runway was found to be a jet engine part that had fallen from a Continental Airlines DC-10 in the course of its own takeoff, a few minutes ahead of the Concorde. The engine part (a thrust reverser wear strip) had recently been replaced in routine maintenance. The mechanic who did the work used a strip made of an alloy with 90 percent titanium content, not stainless steel as specified by the manufacturer of the engine.

Critics of the official report pointed out other possible contributory factors that had been largely discounted by the French investigators. The aircraft exceeded recommended takeoff weight, and it was missing a “spacer” in the landing gear mechanism, possibly causing the aircraft to skid down the runway. There also had been a wind shift before takeoff, resulting in an undesirable tailwind. In addition, the flight crew may have shut down an engine prematurely.

In 2010 a French court ruled that Continental Airlines (by this time involved in a merger with United Airlines) and its mechanic were guilty of involuntary manslaughter, citing poor workmanship and use of improper materials. The court disregarded claims by defense lawyers that the fire had started before the tire encountered the metal strip. An appeals court overturned the criminal convictions two years later but kept a fine on the airline in force.


The aircraft involved was a 25-year-old Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde (registration F-BTSC, serial number 203) that had its maiden flight on 31 January 1975 (during testing the aircraft's registration was F-WTSC). The aircraft was purchased by Air France on 6 January 1976. It was powered by four Rolls-Royce Olympus 593/610 turbojet engines, each of which was equipped with afterburners. The aircraft's last scheduled repair took place on 21 July 2000, four days before the accident no problems were reported during the repair. At the time of the crash, the aircraft had flown for 11,989 hours and had made 4,873 take-off and landing cycles. [2] : 21–35 [6] [7]

The cockpit crew consisted of the following: [2] : 18–20 [8]

    Christian Marty, 54 years old, who had been with Air France since 1967. He had 13,477 flight hours, including 317 hours on the Concorde. Marty had also flown the Boeing 727, 737, Airbus A300, A320, and A340 aircraft. Jean Marcot, 50, who had been with Air France since 1971 and had 10,035 flight hours, with 2,698 of them on the Concorde. He had also flown the Aérospatiale N 262, Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris, Sud Aviation Caravelle and Airbus A300 aircraft. Gilles Jardinaud, 58, who had been with Air France since 1968. He had 12,532 flight hours, of which 937 were on the Concorde aircraft. Jardinaud had also flown the Sud Aviation Caravelle, Dassault Falcon 20, Boeing 727, 737, and 747 (including the -400 variant) aircraft.

The wind at the airport was light and variable that day, and was reported to the cockpit crew as an eight-knot (15 km/h 9 mph) tailwind as they lined up on runway 26R. [2] : 17,170

Five minutes before the Concorde departed, a Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 took off from the same runway for Newark International Airport and lost a titanium alloy strip that was part of the engine cowl, identified as a wear strip about 435 millimetres (17.1 in) long, 29 to 34 millimetres (1.1 to 1.3 in) wide, and 1.4 millimetres (0.055 in) thick. [2] : 17,107 [9] The Concorde ran over this piece of debris during its take-off run, cutting the right front tyre (tyre No 2) and sending a large chunk of tyre debris (4.5 kilograms or 9.9 pounds) into the underside of the left wing at an estimated speed of 140 metres per second (310 mph). [2] : 115 It did not directly puncture any of the fuel tanks, but it sent out a pressure shockwave that ruptured the number 5 fuel tank at the weakest point, just above the undercarriage. Leaking fuel gushing out from the bottom of the wing was most likely ignited either by an electric arc in the landing gear bay (debris cutting the landing gear wire) or through contact with hot parts of the engine. [2] : 120–123 Engines 1 and 2 both surged and lost all power, then engine 1 slowly recovered over the next few seconds. [2] : 17 A large plume of flame developed, and the flight engineer shut down engine 2 in response to a fire warning and the captain's command. [2] : 166 [BEA 1]

Air traffic controller Gilles Logelin noticed the flames before the Concorde was airborne and informed the flight crew. [2] : 17 However, the aircraft had passed V1 speed, at which point takeoff is considered unsafe to abort. The plane did not gain enough airspeed with the three remaining engines as damage to the landing gear bay door prevented the retraction of the undercarriage. [2] : 134–135 The aircraft was unable to climb or accelerate, and its speed decayed during the course of its brief flight. [10] : 33–37 The fire caused damage to the inner elevon of the left wing and it began to disintegrate, [2] : 164 [11] melted by the extremely high temperatures. Engine number 1 surged again, but did not fully recover, and the right wing lifted from the asymmetrical thrust, banking the aircraft to over 100 degrees. The crew reduced the power on engines three and four in an attempt to level the aircraft, but they lost control due to deceleration and the aircraft stalled, crashing into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel. [3] [12] [13] [14] A video of the burning plane on takeoff and the aftermath of the crash was captured by a passing driver. [15]

The crew was trying to divert to nearby Paris–Le Bourget Airport, but accident investigators stated that a safe landing would have been highly unlikely, given the aircraft's flightpath. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the last intelligible words in the cockpit (translated into English): [16] [17]

Co-pilot: "Le Bourget, Le Bourget, Le Bourget."
Pilot: "Too late (unclear)."
Control tower: "Fire service leader, correction, the Concorde is returning to runway zero nine in the opposite direction."
Pilot: "No time, no (unclear)."
Co-pilot: "Negative, we're trying Le Bourget" (four switching sounds).
Co-pilot: "No (unclear)."
Fire service leader: "De Gaulle tower from fire service leader, can you give me the situation of the Concorde?" (two gongs and sound of switch, followed by another switch and sounds likened to objects being moved)
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
End of recording

All the passengers and crew, and four employees of the Hotelissimo hotel, were killed in the crash. [18] [19] Most of the passengers were German tourists en route to New York for a cruise. Notable passengers included German football manager Rudi Faßnacht and German trade union member Christian Götz. [18] [19] [20]

Nationality Passengers Crew Ground Total
Austria 1 1
Denmark 2 2
France 8 8
Germany 96 1 97
United States 1 1
Algeria 1 1
Mauritius 1 1
Poland 2 2
Total 100 9 4 113

Until the crash, Concorde had been considered among the world's safest aeroplanes. [22] The crash was a direct cause of the end of the aircraft's career. [23]

A few days after the crash, all Concordes were grounded, pending an investigation into the cause of the crash and possible remedies. [24]

Air France's Concorde operation had been a money-losing venture, and it is claimed that the aeroplane had been kept in service as a matter of national pride [25] British Airways claimed to make a profit on its Concorde operations. [26] [27] According to Jock Lowe, a Concorde pilot, until the crash of Air France Flight 4590 at Paris, the British Airways Concorde operation made a net average profit of about £30M (equivalent to £51M today) a year. [28] Commercial service was resumed in November 2001 after a £17M (£28M today) safety improvement service, until the type was retired in 2003. [28]

The official investigation was conducted by France's accident investigation bureau, the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA).

Post-accident investigation revealed that the aircraft was over the maximum takeoff weight for ambient temperature and other conditions, and 810 kg (1,790 lb) over the maximum structural weight, [2] : 32,159 [BEA 2] [BEA 3] [29] [30] loaded so that the centre of gravity was aft of the take-off limit. [2] : 159 [29] [30] Fuel transfer during taxiing left the number 5 wing tank 94 percent full. [2] : 118 [BEA 4] A 30-centimetre (12 in) spacer normally keeps the left main landing gear in alignment, but it had not been replaced after recent maintenance the BEA concluded that this did not contribute to the accident. [2] : 155 [31] [BEA 5]

The final report was issued on 16 January 2002. [32]

Conclusions Edit

  • The aircraft was overloaded by 810 kilograms (1,790 lb) above the maximum safe takeoff weight. Any effect on takeoff performance from this excess weight was negligible. [2] : 159
  • After reaching takeoff speed, the tyre of the number 2 wheel was cut by a metal strip (a wear strip) lying on the runway, which had fallen from the thrust reverser cowl door of the number 3 engine of a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off from the same runway five minutes previously. [2] : 102 [33] This wear strip had been replaced at Tel Aviv, Israel, during a C check on 11 June 2000, and then again at Houston, Texas, on 9 July 2000. The strip installed in Houston had been neither manufactured nor installed in accordance with the procedures as defined by the manufacturer. [2] : 105–107,171,174
  • The aircraft was airworthy and the crew were qualified. The landing gear that later failed to retract had not shown serious problems in the past. Despite the crew being trained and certified, no plan existed for the simultaneous failure of two engines on the runway, as it was considered highly unlikely.
  • Aborting the takeoff would have led to a high-speed runway excursion and collapse of the landing gear, which also would have caused the aircraft to crash.
  • While two of the engines had problems and one of them was shut down, the damage to the plane's structure was so severe that the crash would have been inevitable, even with the engines operating normally.

Alternative theories Edit

Two factors that the BEA found to be of negligible consequence to the crash, an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks and loose landing gear, were re-evaluated by British investigators and former French Concorde pilots. They accused Air France of negligence because they concluded these factors caused the aircraft to veer off course on the runway reducing its takeoff speed to below the critical minimum. [8] [34] [35]

Whilst examining the wreckage in a warehouse, British investigators noticed a spacer was missing from the bogie beam on the left hand main landing gear (it was later found in an Air France maintenance workshop). [36] This skewed the alignment of the landing gear because a strut was able to wobble in any direction with 3° of movement. The problem was exacerbated on the left gear's three remaining tyres by the uneven fuel load. Drag marks left on the runway by the left rear landing wheels show the Concorde was veering to the left as it accelerated towards takeoff. [31]

Due to the veer, the Concorde travelled further down the runway than normal because it was failing to gain sufficient takeoff speed. It was after it had passed its usual takeoff point on the runway that it struck the metal strip from the DC-10. [8]

At one point it drifted towards an Air France Boeing 747 which was carrying then-French President Jacques Chirac (who was returning from the 26th G8 summit meeting in Okinawa, Japan). [29] [37]

In November 1981, the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a letter of concern to the French BEA that included safety recommendations for Concorde. This communiqué was the result of the NTSB's investigations of four Air France Concorde incidents during a 20-month period from July 1979 to February 1981 . The NTSB described those incidents as "potentially catastrophic," because they were caused by blown tyres during takeoff. During its 27 years in service, Concorde had about 70 tyre- or wheel-related incidents, seven of which caused serious damage to the aircraft or were potentially catastrophic. [38]

  • 13 June 1979: The number 5 and 6 tyres blew out during a takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. Fragments thrown from the tyres and rims damaged number 2 engine, punctured three fuel tanks, severed several hydraulic lines and electrical wires, and tore a large hole on the top of the wing over the wheel well area.
  • 21 July 1979: Another blown tyre incident during takeoff from Dulles Airport. After that second incident the "French director general of civil aviation issued an air worthiness directive and Air France issued a Technical Information Update, each calling for revised procedures. These included required inspection of each wheel and tyre for condition, pressure and temperature prior to each takeoff. In addition, crews were advised that landing gear should not be raised when a wheel/tyre problem is suspected."
  • August 1981: British Airways (BA) plane taking off from New York suffered a blow-out, damaging landing gear door, engine and fuel tank. [38]
  • November 1985: Tyre burst on a BA plane leaving Heathrow, causing damage to the landing gear door and fuel tank. Two engines were damaged as a result of the accident. [38]
  • January 1988: BA plane leaving Heathrow lost 10 bolts from its landing gear wheel. A fuel tank was punctured. [38]
  • July 1993: Tyre burst on a BA plane during landing at Heathrow, causing substantial ingestion damage to the number 3 engine, damaging the landing gear and wing, and puncturing an empty fuel tank. [39]
  • October 1993: Tyre burst on a BA plane during taxi at Heathrow, puncturing wing, damaging fuel tanks and causing a major fuel leak. [40]

Because it is a tailless delta-wing aircraft, Concorde could not use the normal flaps or slats to assist takeoff and landing, and required a significantly higher air and tyre speed during the takeoff roll than an average airliner. [ citation needed ] That higher speed increased the risk of tyre burst during takeoff. Analysis of test results revealed the level of kinetic energy necessary to cause the rupture of fuel tank. The analysis of impact energy considered a tyre piece of 4.5 kilograms (9.9 lb) with a speed around 140 metres per second (310 mph). The piece could reach this speed by combination of rotation of the tyre on takeoff and the tyre burst. [2] : 115

The accident led to modifications to Concorde, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks, and specially developed burst-resistant tyres. [41]

The crash of the Air France Concorde nonetheless proved to be the beginning of the end for the type. [42] Just before service resumed, the September 11 attacks took place, resulting in a marked drop in passenger numbers, and contributing to the eventual end of Concorde flights. [43] Air France stopped flights in May 2003 , and British Airways ended its Concorde flights in October 2003 . [44]

In June 2010, two groups attempted, unsuccessfully, to revive Concorde for "Heritage" flights in time for the 2012 Olympics. The British Save Concorde Group, SCG, and French group Olympus 593 were attempting to get four Rolls-Royce Olympus engines at Le Bourget Air and Space Museum. [45]

French authorities began a criminal investigation of Continental Airlines, whose plane dropped the debris on the runway, in March 2005, [46] and that September, Henri Perrier, the former chief engineer of the Concorde division at Aérospatiale at the time of the first test flight in 1969 and the programme director in the 1980s and early 1990s, was placed under formal investigation. [47]

In March 2008, Bernard Farret, a deputy prosecutor in Pontoise, outside Paris, asked judges to bring manslaughter charges against Continental Airlines and two of its employees – John Taylor, the mechanic who replaced the wear strip on the DC-10, and his manager Stanley Ford – alleging negligence in the way the repair was carried out. [48] Continental denied the charges, [49] and claimed in court that it was being used as a scapegoat by the BEA. The airline suggested that the Concorde "was already on fire when its wheels hit the titanium strip, and that around 20 first-hand witnesses had confirmed that the plane seemed to be on fire immediately after it began its take-off roll". [36] [50]

At the same time charges were laid against Henri Perrier, head of the Concorde program at Aérospatiale, Jacques Hérubel, Concorde's chief engineer, and Claude Frantzen, head of DGAC, the French airline regulator. [48] [51] [52] It was alleged that Perrier, Hérubel and Frantzen knew that the plane's fuel tanks could be susceptible to damage from foreign objects, but nonetheless allowed it to fly. [53]

The trial ran in a Parisian court from February to December 2010. Continental Airlines was found criminally responsible for the disaster. It was fined €200,000 ($271,628) and ordered to pay Air France €1 million . Taylor was given a 15-month suspended sentence, while Ford, Perrier, Hérubel and Frantzen were cleared of all charges. The court ruled that the crash resulted from a piece of metal from a Continental jet that was left on the runway the object punctured a tyre on the Concorde and then ruptured a fuel tank. [54] [55] [56] The convictions were overturned by a French appeals court in November 2012, thereby clearing Continental and Taylor of criminal responsibility. [55]

The Parisian court also ruled that Continental would have to pay 70% of any compensation claims. As Air France had paid out €100 million to the families of the victims, Continental could be made to pay its share of that compensation payout. The French appeals court, while overturning the criminal rulings by the Parisian court, affirmed the civil ruling and left Continental liable for the compensation claims. [55] [57]

A monument in honour of the crash victims was established at Gonesse. The Gonesse monument consists of a piece of transparent glass with a piece of an aircraft wing jutting through. [58] Another monument, a 6,000-square-metre (65,000 sq ft) memorial surrounded with topiary planted in the shape of a Concorde, was established in 2006 at Mitry-Mory, just south of Charles de Gaulle Airport. [59] [60]

Concorde's pilot: 'Too late. no time'

The final terrifying moments of Air France flight 4590 were revealed yesterday when French accident investigators released their preliminary report on last month's Concorde crash outside Paris, in which 113 people died.

A transcript of the cockpit voice recorder shows that the supersonic jetliner, starting a flight from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport to New York, ploughed into a hotel in the small town of Gonesse, just one minute 17 seconds after its pilot, Christian Marty, was told it was on fire.

It shows that the crew, who were unable to retract the undercarriage, had lost all power in one engine and could neither accelerate nor gain altitude, tried desperately to reach Le Bourget airport, nearby.

Marty's last words, at a few seconds after 2.44pm on July 25, were: "Too late. no time." The co-pilot was then heard to say: "Le Bourget, Le Bourget. Negative we are trying Le Bourget." Sixteen seconds later the recording ends.

At 14.45 the control tower informed the fire and emergency services that the flight, carrying 100 mainly German passengers and nine crew, had crashed near Le Bourget. A minute later air traffic control announced: "To all listening aircraft, please hold back a moment. We will try to pick ourselves up and recommence take-offs."

The 90-page, highly technical report contains little new information on the crash, which prompted Air France to ground its remaining Concordes immediately and British Airways, the only other airline to fly the ageing supersonic jet, to follow suit nearly three weeks later.

The investigators from the French accident inquiry board (BEA) confirms the hypothesis that a burst tyre set off the fatal chain of events which brought the plane down, killing all those on board and another four people on the ground.

"The July 25 accident shows that the destruction of a tyre, an event that we cannot say will not recur, had catastrophic consequences in a short period of time, preventing the crew from rectifying the situation," the report says.

"The crew had no way of knowing about the nature of the fire nor any means of fighting it."

It also confirms that a small metal strip, probably from another airplane, was found on the runway.

"It has holes in it and in some of these holes appear to be Cherry aeronautical rivets. This strip has not been identified as coming from Concorde," the report says. Cherry is a type of rivet not used on Concorde.

The BEA said last month that the 40cm piece of metal almost certainly gashed the Concorde's tyre, sending large chunks of rubber hurtling at tremendous speed into the plane's fuel tanks, which are contained in its delta-shaped wings, and starting the blaze.

"Shortly before rotation [take-off speed], the front right tyre of the left undercarriage became damaged and tyre fragments were projected against the fuselage," the interim report, released on the internet, says.

"At least one fuel tank was ruptured in one or more places, resulting in a substantial fuel leak.

"The leaking fuel caught light and a very violent fire ensued throughout the duration of the flight. Engine problems occurred in engine number 2 and, briefly, in engine number 1. The aircraft flew for approximately one minute."

The report formally recommends that Concorde's airworthiness certificates should be suspended until "appropriate measures have been put in place to guarantee a satisfactory level of safety as regards the risk associated with tyre blow-outs" - a step the civil aviation authority and its French equivalent, the DGAC, carried out on August 16.

Over the 25 years Concorde has been in commercial operation, there have been at least seven potentially catastrophic incidents in which one or more of its tyres have burst, leading to punctures in the wings or fuel tanks.

But in all those incidents it was a piece of flying metal - from the undercarriage or water deflectors - that caused the damage, not tyre rubber itself. Safety efforts were therefore concentrated on strengthening all the metal parts that could be broken off in a tyre burst, but not on protecting the wings themselves.

Stressing that the catastrophe could have happened at any time, the investigators say:"Experience in service has shown that a tyre blow-out during taxiing, landing and take-off is not an improbable event on Concorde and that such an event is indeed capable of causing structural and system damage. However, a blow-out of this kind has never before led to a fuel fire."

The report does not contain any analysis or final conclusions about the cause of the disaster, and notes that the sequence of damage and the links between the various events have "not yet been fully established". The final report may not appear for several months.

Earlier this week the transport minister, Jean-Claude Gayssot, held out hope that the planes might fly again. "I am not saying it is over with Concorde," he said. "But we need guarantees that such a chain of events cannot happen again."

But aviation experts have said commercial considerations may well rule that out.

13.58 Crew contacts control tower to plan pre-flight sequence.

14.07 Controller gives permission to start, confirms runway 26 right as requested by crew.

14.34 Ground controller gives the plane permission to taxi toward the runway.

14.42 and 17 seconds Controller. "Air France 4590, runway 26 right, wind zero 90 knots, authorized takeoff."

14.42.21 Co-pilot: "4590 taking off 26 right (sound of switch).

14.42.24 Pilot: "Is everyone ready?

14.42.26 - Pilot: "Up to 100, 150 (followed by unclear words, sound of switch).

14.42.31 - "Top (noise similar to engines increasing power).

14:42.35 - Unidentified voice on radio channel: "Go on, Christian."

14.42.43 - Mechanic: "We have four heated up (sound of switch).

14.42.54 - Co-pilot: "100 knots."

14.42.57 - Mechanic: "Four green."

14.43.03 Co-pilot: "V one (Low-frequency noise).

14.43.13 - Co-pilot: "Watch out."

14.43.13 - Controller: "Concorde zero. 4590, you have flames (unclear) you have flames behind you."

14.43.16 - Unidentified voice (simultaneously on radio) "Right (background noise changes, sound of switch).

14:43.16 - Mechanic: "Stop (unclear)."

14.43.18 - Co-pilot: "Well received."

14.43.20 - Mechanic: "Breakdown, eng, breakdown engine two (two sounds of switches, followed by fire alarm).

14.43.22 - Unidentified voice on radio: "It's burning badly, huh (Gong)

14.43.24 - Mechanic: "Cut engine two."

14.43.25 - Pilot: "Engine fire procedure (sound of switch, end of ringing).

14.43.27 - Co-pilot: "Warning, the airspeed indicator, the airspeed indicator, the airspeed indicator (sound of switch, gong).

14.43.28 - Person in control tower: "It's burning badly and I'm not sure it's coming from the engine (Switch sound similar to fire extinguisher handle being activated).

14.43.30 - Pilot: "Gear on the way up."

14.43.31 - Controller: "4590, you have strong flames behind you."

14.43.32 - Mechanic: "The gear (alarm, similar to toilet smoke alert).

14.43.34 - Controller: "Beginning reception of a Middle Marker.

14.43.34 - Co-pilot: "Yes, well received."

14.43.35 - Mechanic: "The gear, no (Gong).

14.43.37 - Controller: "So, at your convenience, you have priority to land."

14.43.38 - Co-pilot: "No (two switch noises).

14.43.39 - Pilot: "Gear (unclear), coming up."

14.43.41 - Co-pilot: "Well received (fire alarm, gong, three switch sounds).

14.43.45 - Co-pilot: "I'm trying (unclear)."

14.43.45 - Mechanic: "I'm hitting."

14.43.46 - Pilot: "Are (unclear) you cutting engine two (end of smoke alarm).

14.43.48 - Mechanic: "I've cut it."

14.43.49 - Controller: "End reception Middle Marker."

14.43.49 - Co-pilot: "The airspeed indicator (sound of switch, end of ringing).

14.43.56 - Co-pilot: "The gear won't come up (fire alarm rings).

14.43.59 - Aircraft instrument: "Whoop whoop pull up (GPWS alarm, gong).

14.44 (4.44 pm) - Aircraft instrument: "Whoop whoop pull up (GPWS alarm).

14.44 - Co-pilot: "The airspeed indicator."

14.44.02 - Aircraft instrument: "Whoop whoop pull up (GPWS alarm).

14.44.03 - Fire service leader: "De Gaulle tower from fire service leader."

14.44.05 - Controller: "Fire service leader, uh . the Concorde, I don't know its intentions, get yourself in position near the south doublet (sound of switch).

14.44.13 - Fire service leader: "De Gaulle tower from fire service leader authorization to enter 26 right."

14:44.14 - Co-pilot: "Le Bourget, Le Bourget."

14.44.16 - Pilot: "Too late (unclear)."

14.44.18 - Controller: "Fire service leader, correction, the Concorde is returning to runway zero nine in the opposite direction."

14.44.19 - Pilot: "No time, no (unclear)."

14.44.22 - Co-pilot: "Negative, we're trying Le Bourget (four switching sounds).

14.44.26 - Co-pilot: "No (unclear)."

14.44.26 - Fire service leader: "De Gaulle tower from fire service leader, can you give me the situation of the Concorde (two gongs and sound of switch, followed by another switch and sounds likened to objects being moved).

14.44.29 - Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion).

14.44.30 - Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion).

14.44.30 - Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion).

Last sound noted on transcript at 14:44.30.18. Recording ends at

The two prototype aircraft were used to expand the flight envelope of the aircraft as quickly as possible and prove that the design calculations for supersonic flight were correct.

  • F-WTSS (production designation 001) was the first Concorde to fly, on 2 March 1969, and was retired on arrival at the French air museum at Le Bourget Airport on 19 October 1973, having made 397 flights covering 812 hours, of which 255 hours were at supersonic speeds. It remains in its Solar Eclipse mission livery complete with rooftop portholes. [3][4]
    • Concorde 001 was modified for the 1973 solar eclipse mission with rooftop portholes and observation equipment. Its flight over Africa became the longest observation of a solar eclipse, lasting some 74 minutes. [5]

    Both pre-production aircraft were used to further develop the design of the aircraft. Changes to design include different wing planform, more fuel, different engine standard and different air intake systems.

    • Concorde G-AXDN (101) first flew on 17 December 1971 from Filton and was retired to the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, where it landed on 20 August 1977, having made 269 flights (632 hours), of which 168 flights were supersonic. [7]
    • Concorde F-WTSA (102) first flew on 10 January 1973 from Toulouse. It was the fourth aircraft and the first to have the features and the shape of the future production aircraft. It was the first to fly to the United States (on 20 September 1973 to Dallas, Texas). For several years the aircraft was painted in British Airways colours on one side and Air France colours on the other. It made 314 flights (656 hours), of which 189 were supersonic, and was then retired to Orly Airport in Paris on 20 May 1976, where it is on display to the public. [8]

    The production aircraft were different in many ways from the original aircraft, necessitating re-examining certain areas to obtain certification. In all there were six "development" aircraft: the two prototypes (001/002), two pre-production (101/102) and two production aircraft (201/202).

    • F-WTSB (201) first flew on 6 December 1973 from Toulouse. Its last flight was on 19 April 1985 from Chateauroux to Toulouse a total of 909 flying hours. It is currently inside the Aeroscopia museum near the Airbus factory at Toulouse. [9] (202) first flew on 13 December 1974 from Filton to RAF Fairford. It last flew on 24 December 1981 after a total of 1282 hours. Subsequently, it was stored in a hangar on the Filton Airfield and was used as a spare parts source by BA for their Concorde fleet. It was sectioned and moved by road in May/June 2004 to the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey, where after restoration it was opened to the public in the summer of 2006. [10][11]

    British Airways had seven production aircraft in commercial service:

    • G-BOAC (204) The flagship of the fleet (because of its BOAC registration) first flew on 27 February 1975 from Filton. It made its final flight to Manchester Airport – where a "glass hangar" was later built at the viewing park for its display – on 31 October 2003 after flying 22,260 hours. [12]
    • G-BOAA (206) first flew on 5 November 1975 from Filton. This aircraft flew with the Red Arrows on 2 June 1996 to celebrate 50 years of Heathrow Airport. It last flew on 12 August 2000 as BA002 from New York JFK to London Heathrow after flying 22,768 hours, and did not receive modifications after the Paris crash. For its final journey it was transported to the National Museum of Flight (run by National Museums Scotland), East Fortune, near Edinburgh, over land to the Thames, then by sea to Torness, then over land again to the museum from 8 to 19 April 2004. [13]
    • G-BOAB (208) first flew on 18 May 1976 from Filton. Its last flight was a positioning flight on 15 August 2000 as BA002P from New York JFK to London Heathrow after flying 22,296 hours. It remains at Heathrow Airport. It was never modified, and so never flew again after returning home following the Paris crash. G-BOAB was used by British Airways to carry out a test installation of the 'Project Rocket' interior that was later installed on the rest of the fleet, before remaining stationary for several years with its interior stripped, with boxes of magazines being used as ballast, and being periodically towed to various locations around the airport. Following minor restoration works in 2015 and 2017, the aircraft is used for apprentice training by BA. [14]
    • G-BOAD (210) first flew on 25 August 1976 from Filton. It was repainted with Singapore Airlines livery on the left side and British Airways livery on the right [15] for a joint service by the two airlines between Bahrain and Singapore International Airport at Paya Lebar for three months in 1977, and from 1979 to 1981. This aircraft made the fastest Atlantic crossing by any Concorde on 7 February 1996, taking off from New York JFK and landing in London Heathrow 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds later. [16] It departed from Heathrow for the final time on 10 November 2003 and flew to JFK, from where it was then transferred (on a barge originally used to move Space shuttle external fuel tanks), to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York, past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River. Its engines were removed to reduce weight. Its temporary home was on a barge alongside the aircraft carrier Intrepid, pending the proposed creation of a quayside display hall however, in December 2006, this Concorde was moved to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, where it was kept in poor conditions. [17][18] G-BOAD's nose cone was knocked off by a truck at the end in June 2008. [17][19][20] The damage was repaired and subsequently the aircraft was moved back to Pier 86 in Manhattan (and placed on the pier, rather than on a barge) on 20 October 2008 as part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. G-BOAD spent more time in the air than any other Concorde, at 23,397 hours. [21]
    • G-BOAE (212) first flew on 17 March 1977 from Filton. On 1 July 1999 it flew in formation with the Red Arrows to mark the opening of the Scottish Parliament. Its last flight was to Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown (Barbados) on 17 November 2003, with 70 members of BA staff on board. The flight, lasting less than 4 hours, reached the maximum certified height of 60,000 ft (18,300 m). It flew a total of 23,376 hours. A new exhibition was constructed to house the aircraft, east of the airport at the old Spencers Plantation. [22][23]
    • G-BOAG (214) first flew on 21 April 1978 from Filton. The aircraft flew the final Speedbird 2 service from New York on 24 October 2003, and left Heathrow for the final time on 3 November. It spent a day "resting" and refuelling in New York before making its final flight on 5 November from New York JFK to Boeing Field, Seattle in an unusual supersonic flight (which required special permission) over the sparsely populated part of northern Canada. It is currently displayed at Seattle's Museum of Flight, alongside the first 707 that served as Air Force One and the prototype Boeing 747. This Concorde was once used as a source of spares, before being restored using parts from Air France's F-BVFD, and has flown 16,239 hours. [24]
    • G-BOAF (216) first flew on 20 April 1979 from Filton and was the last Concorde to be built. [25] It made Concorde's final flight on Wednesday 26 November 2003. Departing from Heathrow at 11:30 GMT, it made a last, brief, supersonic flight, carrying 100 BA staff, over the Bay of Biscay. It then flew a "lap of honour" above Bristol, passing over Portishead, Clevedon, Weston-super-Mare, Bristol Airport and Clifton Suspension Bridge, before landing at Filton, soon after 13:00 GMT. It was met by Prince Andrew, who formally accepted its handover. It had flown a total of 18,257 hours. Until 2010, the aircraft was open for public viewing at the Airbus facility since 2017 it has been the main exhibit at Filton's Aerospace Bristol museum. [26][27]

    As part of tenth-anniversary celebrations on 24 December 1985, British Airways photographed G-BOAA, G-BOAC, G-BOAF and G-BOAG formation flying for their publicity material. [28]

    Watch the video: Concorde, Crash - Jets Over Czech 2013 (August 2022).