Bye bye Concorde

by Suw on September 23, 2003

So, the tickets for Concorde’s final flights are selling out, even at ?8292 for a return. Suffice to say that I won’t get to sample the delights of supersonic flight before the delta-wing hits the scrap heap.

When I was a kid, every year we would go down to The Lizard in Cornwall (that’s a place, by the way, not an animal) for a week or two. We usually stayed at the same caravan site, Gwendreath Farm, near Kennack Sands. Googling it now I see that Tom and Linda are still running the place, although it has changed a lot since I was a wee sproglet.

Sometimes, we’d be sitting there in the caravan – usually it’d be pissing down outside and my brother and I would be testing out new and imaginative ways to kill each other, the windows would be steamed up and Mum’d be making a cup of tea on the one-ring gas stove (in itself an exciting event to me back then) – and then it’d come, Concorde’s sonic booms, rattling the shelves and occasionally tossing glasses off to smash on the floor.

Seemed like the hand of Zeus to me back then, smiting us in a very short and rather wimpy temper tantrum, but smiting us nonetheless. My Dad would explain about the triple boom and how the shockwaves were coming off the nose and wings, travelling through the air to eventually shake our caravan on its footings. Didn’t matter that we never saw the thing that did this – that made it all the more powerful.

To me, it was always a good omen to hear Concorde’s booms.

Years later, I moved to Hounslow. Not the most salubrious area of London, to be sure, but it was ok in its own little way. Of course, I loved living under the Heathrow flight path – Concorde would rip through the sky every day, and every day if I could get to a window fast enough I would see its sleek form, like a great white swan, heading off to somewhere exotic.

I worked at Heathrow for a while and every now and again would see Concorde parked up on the tarmac, smaller than you’d think, but beautiful.

The last three years in Reading, too, have provided me with daily reminders of Concorde. Some days, when the flight path took it right overhead, I couldn’t think (let alone speak) for the noise of its engines shredding through the blue. The sound of them changed when the new fuel tank liners were fitted, became subtly different. I could tell Concorde just from hearing it approach and on more than one occasion have surprised male friends by announcing at the slightest hint of a distant roar ?Oh, there’s Concorde?.

It was such a shame to see the way that Concorde was savaged after the Paris accident. Tragic though that was, the reaction was totally disproportionate. Both Airbus and Boeing have planes with serious ongoing problems – congenital problems in design, training or manufacture – that have caused more crashes than Concorde has ever had, yet no one at Boeing or Airbus has ever taken responsibility for their design errors, nor have either manufacturer had aircraft grounded en masse.

This in contrast to Concorde, where the whole fleet was grounded overnight and the plane itself pilloried for an accident which was caused by debris on the runway and the use of cheap retreaded tyres by Air France. Had the exact same accident happened to a Boeing 747, I can guarantee that all other 747s would have remained flying regardless of the cause of the accident.

Of course Concorde never recovered from the Paris accident, because the media furore surrounding the investigation and the subsequent modifications never let up. The media seemed to really get off on watching Concorde die a death, and the long suspension of scheduled flights ensured that passengers got used to other carriers.

Concorde was built with taxpayers money and sold to British Airways for a pound. That’s our plane, built with the French in a collaboration that hasn’t since been matched. Branson says he wants to fly Concorde, that he can make it pay, and I think he should be allowed to give it a go, be allowed to rescue this symbol of Anglo-French engineering brilliance.

It is also a crying shame that there is nothing to take Concorde’s place. Where is Son of Concorde? Were are our new supersonic planes in development? Where are the sub-orbital planes that will whisk us to Sydney in an hour? Every few years some new project gets announced and then sinks back into oblivion, never to be heard of again.

I find it hard to believe that such aircraft are impossible to build – Concorde is 25 years old. If they could build such a beautiful supersonic aircraft in the 60s, why the hell can’t we even match that, let alone improve on it, in this new millennium of ours? What is so difficult about designing and developing a new, improved Concorde? We’ve done it once, why can’t we do it again?

My thoughts? Because the will is not there. Neither the political will (there’s no longer a need to prove our technological superiority) nor any other sort of will. Maybe I’m a little na’ve about such things, but to me we’re losing out as a country when we’re not at the forefront of engineering research and development, when we’re not pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved.

So what’s left? Just the X Prize. That’s the ball to keep your eyes on now.

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