Hi, I’m Dylan Cupolo, senior tour guide here at
the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
and today we’re going to be talking about one of the most
legendary aircraft in our collection.
The British Airways Concorde.
Concorde is a joint project between the British and French governments.
First time that a human being is recorded is moving faster than the speed of
sound in an airplane is 1947.
Chuck Yeager flying the Bell X-1 breaks the infamous sound barrier.
Of course, as is usual with technology trickles down
from the military to the civilian spheres.
As early as the 1950s as the military is beginning to use
supersonic technology in their aircraft,
the commercial airlines become interested in using it to take passengers to
the destinations that they want to go. So after designing a prototype, the
British government realizes that their friendly rivals across the channel are
developing a very similar prototype and they decide to partner.
In 1962 the Anglo-French agreement is signed.
This agreement is going to spell out everything involving the building and
selling of Concorde.
They decide that certain parts of the plane will be built by the
British Aircraft Corporation in the United Kingdom
and that other parts of the plane will be built all over France.
After initial interest from many airlines, including the leading
airline around the world, Pan American, lengthy development times combined with
rising costs, will cause most of these airlines to cancel their options.
As a result, the only two airlines to purchase Concorde
are the British Airways and Air France.
In total, 20 airframes were built.
Six of them preproduction and prototypes and 14 purchased to fly commercially
between British Airways and Air France split right down the middle, at seven a piece.
Today, 18 remain around the world.
Tragically, a Concorde crashed in July of 2000 after taking off from
Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France and Air France also tore another one
of their airframes apart for spare pieces.
Concorde’s last commercial flight was in 2003 flying passengers around the world
for 27 years.
The plane is 202 feet long, nose to tail and then from wingtip to wingtip
it is 84 feet wide.
You have a really nice shot of Concord’s modified Delta wing.
Early in supersonic research, they realized that from a physics standpoint, a
triangular or delta wing configuration was ideal for limiting
drag at supersonic speeds.
The issue that they ran into with Concorde was that they
needed a modified Delta wing, so they referred to the gentle sloping
curves of the wing as an ogival Delta wing.
With all Delta wings, you run into issues traveling at subsonic speeds, very low
speeds, to be specific.
The only way to generate enough lift at low speeds
is to have a very high angle of attack
to pitch the airplane up high.
And this utilizes the phenomenon associated with the Delta wing, which is vortex lift.
Vortices create areas of low pressure above the wing,
which it will give you a lift at the slow speeds which would be taking off and landing.
The problem with pitching up the wing and therefore the nose
very high on takeoff and landing as the pilots had trouble seeing.
Initially, they installed periscopes on the planes.
Needless to say, the pilots weren’t too happy with looking down through a
periscope on these critical points in their flight.
So they eventually came up with another unique feature of the aircraft, which is
the droop snoot, or the fact that the nose at the very front of the plane
bent down on takeoff and landing to allow the pilots to see.
Concorde was equipped with four Rolls-Royce turbo jet engines and with
32,000 pounds of thrust each, this was enough to keep Concorde at cruising speed
of Mach 2.0 or two times speed of sound.
Unique to Concorde was the presence of afterburners or “reheats”
on each one of the engines
These are typical features of turbo jet engines on military aircraft,
but Concorde is the only commercial plane to make use of them on their flight.
What an afterburner does is it reintroduces fuel to the exhaust
of the engine and then sets it on fire one more time to give you a very strong
burst of thrust; about 20% extra power.
Concorde only used them at two points of their flight, take off and to burn
through an area of high drag called the transonic zone.
The physics of supersonic flight means that the airframe is subjected to a lot
of heat and Concorde is made out of a special type of
aluminum alloy that is resistant to the heat that would be generated on the airframe.
We’re talking around the windows, you know, a couple
inches from the passenger’s faces,
about 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Portions of the leading edge of the wing and the nose being even greater than that.
There was actually an automatic feature on the aircraft that would
slow the plane down in the event that it got to a critical heating point.
And this was the main limiting factor on Concorde’s speed.
That’s why they chose that magic number of Mach 2.0.
Any faster, more heat is generated on the airframe have to make the plane out of
different materials like the titanium that our A-12 is made of here at the museum.
And then you run into a whole different set of issues.
Of course, when metal heats up before it melts, obviously it’s going to expand.
There’s only one really visible marker of that expansion on Concorde,
and it was the expansion joint located here in the flight deck.
So the gap, once the plane was at its cruising speed of Mach 2.0
was quite substantial. We’re talking maybe 6 to 8 inches.
On the last flights for a lot of the airframes, we do know that the flight engineer,
if not the entire crew, would leave their caps in this gap or one cap
signed by all of them when the plane landed and cooled and the metal contracts
and the gap closed, the hat was then stuck there.
I think in their minds for eternity.
And we know that Alpha Delta here did have one of those caps in this gap,
but it is currently in our collection storage being safeguarded
so that we can display it for as long as we possibly can.
Concorde primarily for transatlantic.
So you would find yourself flying mostly out of London Heathrow and
Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for regularly scheduled flights.
And you were most likely going to a destination on
the eastern seaboard of the United States.
The most popular destination was, of course, New York, but
Washington, D.C. was also quite popular, at a time.
The experience of flying on Concorde was luxury to tee.
Service as first class, if not better.
You’re going to have three meals on what averaged out to a 3 to 3 1/2 hour flight.
Price of the ticket was obviously above first class as well.
Initially, British Airways is charging about 20% more than the cost of first
class ticket for that same route, on let’s say a 747.
This led to a very specific type of culture that surrounded the aircraft.
Not only did you have frequent fliers that saw each other often and were quite
collegial, the flight crew was also very interested in fostering
relationships with these people and they would allow them to visit the flight deck.
And, of course, you had your fair share of celebrities that flew the aircraft.
This specific Concorde Alpha Delta or G-BOAD is a record holder.
On February 7th, 1996, flying from John F.
Kennedy here in New York City to London Heathrow, Captain Leslie Scott, First
Officer Tim Orchard and chief engineer Rick Eades made it to
London in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
That’s the fastest that a commercial airliner has
ever made it across the Atlantic Ocean.
Leslie Scott lives in New York City today, retired pilot,
and he is a member of the museum. What it really boils down to, they told us when
we interviewed them, is a very fortuitous tailwind they had
heading over to London on that day.
They realized that they were going to have it because on their way into New York
City the day before, there was a very strong headwind that slowed them down.
So they were doing all the math and checking out the weather before
their flight, and they realized that this was going to be one of their quicker
flights across the Atlantic.
And there’s always a spirit of friendly competition, or at least there was for
the Concorde pilots and so far as getting that fastest flight.
And they thought that maybe this was their shot.
The tailwind helped them out.
But what it really boiled down to at the end was Tim Orchard calling
in some favors with the connections that he had for air traffic control
at Heathrow Airport, meaning when they got pretty close, they may
or may not have went supersonic for a little longer than they should have,
but they were allowed, they were cleared to land east bound,
meaning they didn’t have to circle around and then land going west.
Alpha Delta was also the workhorse of not only British Airways, but really of the
entire Concorde fleet.
Between British Airways and Air France. There were about 80,000 flights flown and
Alpha Delta flew by itself, 8000.
So it’s 10% of all flights flown between both fleets.
So Concorde service ended in 2003 and the various airplanes were distributed to
museums around the world. Alpha Delta arrived here at the Intrepid Museum in
January of 2004 and opened its doors to the public.
You want to experience Concorde today?
Come on down to the museum and take a guided tour.