A Marvel of 20th Century Engineering
The Concorde was one of the greatest gems of the aviation industry in the 20th century. It was a result of 20 years of engineering in a nutshell. It was the culmination of two giants participating together to make the ultimate travel machine, the Concorde.
By 1960, the British had come up with an early design of a supersonic airliner. At the same time, the French were also working on a similar concept. As both efforts advanced, it made sense to join forces and develop the aircraft together. After a little, creative deal-making the two countries (the UK and France) joined to launch the Concorde program, signing a treaty in 1962. The two counties once fierce rivals would now work together to reinvent air travel.
Thousands of brightest minds were put to work.
“Apart from the Apollo 🌓 landings, the Concorde was the most technically ambitious project of the century”.
Keeping aside the success or failure part of the plane, it was indeed the greatest civilian aircraft ever built in my opinion.
What was it for, Reason for its Development?
The Concorde was primarily made for the transatlantic flight from New York to London as these are the 2 main hubs of the world and needed faster traveling between them. In the early days of aviation, the transatlantic flight was about 13 hours, this was greatly reduced after the introduction of the jet engines which took only 7 hours, and the time was further reduced by the introduction of planes like the Concorde. The time of traveling was reduced to a mere 3 and a half hours at supersonic speeds.
It was supposed to be the giant leap forward, but instead going supersonic would end up as one of the biggest missteps in commercial aviation history.
A Little Bit of History:-
In the early days flying faster than the speed of sound was considered very difficult or even impossible. People thought it couldn’t be done, the laws of physics wouldn’t allow it. But an array of speed records followed after the first supersonic flight by Chuck Yeager in 1947.
The transition from jet-propelled engines to jetliners and to supersonic flights happened so quickly that it left many aircraft makers behind but as we all know everything didn’t go as planned. The British were the first to develop the first jetliner named the “The Comet”, this new jetliner had a major design flaw which made it more prone to accidents and many fatal accidents did happen which led to its slower sales growth.
This incident gave the rest of the world to catch with the sales as by 1960, for every Comet sold the Americans were selling another ten jetliners of their own. And the British quickly lost their early lead in the jet age.
THE SOVIET CONCORDE: TUPOLEV Tu-144
In the meantime, the Russians had their own version of the Concorde ready, with basically the same design and innovations. It was the only supersonic jet to ever carry commercial passengers apart from the Concorde. It was called the Tupolev Tu-144. This aircraft was more dangerous, uncomfortable, and loud than the Concorde.
In the 1960s, the race was not just to build a supersonic jet, it was more than just flying fast, it was about asserting superiority. And the race to be first actually started as a three-way between the Americans with their half baked Boeing 2707, the joint British-French Concorde, and the Soviets Tu-144. The Americans never made one because of bureaucracy and overbudgeting. This put the Concorde project in the lead, whereas the Soviets relied on the ingenuity and they stole a whole lot from the Concorde program. As a result, the Soviets Tu-144 took flight two months earlier than the Concorde.
Flaws of Tupolev Tu-144:-
Obviously, the Tu-144 did all the things that the Conocde could do but a little worse. Unlike the Concorde, it was not built around the customer experience, and also it was made around the stolen ideas which let it have a bad experience. Tu-144 had a very short range because it burned so much fuel that in a single go it couldn’t even cross the Soviet Union.
Out of 102 scheduled fights, there were 226 mechanical failures, 80 of which were serious enough to delay or cancel the flight altogether. It crashed twice, in 1973 and 1978 further ruining its reputation.
Clearly, all these flaws were caused because it was rushed in the development process to getting it to build before Concorde.
Although both Concorde and Tu-144 were a failure, Concorde was in service for up until 2003. Tu-144 on the other hand was retired not even a full year after it entered service.
HOW & WHY DID IF FAIL?
From the very beginning, the engineers working on the project knew that the Concorde isn't going to sell well because of all the things required to make it suitable for a perfect plane. The idea of a supersonic plane was ahead of its time and the challenges it proposed were not technologically possible. That’s why it was never economically feasible and was doomed in the end.
The only fatal crash in 2003 was never the way to end operations on the aircraft, it was merely a medium that became a reason to end the program. The bigger picture was the lack of ticket sales and the lack of planes sold.
Problems of a Flying Concorde, Reason for its Failure
- The engines of the plane produced very loud noises during takeoff, the noises were in the range of above 100 dB, also during the flight, the plane produced sonic boom sounds which were not appreciated by the people on the ground, this resulted in the banning of the plane in some of the countries.
- It frequently was returned to the shop to get some maintenance done. The technology used was so cutting edge and ahead of its time that the aircraft always needed something more done to it.
- Used twice as much more fuel than a traditional jetliner for the same distance traveled. The amount of fuel used during taxing on the runway was equivalent to a car using in 6 months.
- The fuselage was very thin, it was often referred to as pencil-thin. Due to this it only had very few seats and couldn't carry more passengers.
- The initial cost of operating the plane was very high, the economics didn’t favor the plane either, on top of that include bad political interference which ultimately decided the fate of the plane.
SPECIALTY OF CONCORDE
- The shape of the Concorde was as unique as the shape of its nose. It had a long sharp-pointed nose. The thinness serves many purposes but the most important of them all is that it is very good for the aerodynamics of the plane at high Mach number.
But the design of the nose posed a problem in the sense that it was too long to see in front of the plane during landing, that’s why it had 2 positions, one being the normal position and the other being the extended position. Due to this property, the mechanisms of the nose became very complex.
- Flying at supersonic speeds requires engines that are at least twice as powerful as the regular subsonic jet engines. It also required stream-lined wings and airframes that can withstand the stresses caused due to high velocity and high temperatures.
The engine on the Concorde was a Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593. It had four of these engines capable of pushing the aircraft at supersonic speeds. The engines generated about 18.7 metric tons (180kN) of thrust. Together with the four engines burned 6,771 gallons (25,629 liters) of fuel per hour.
- Blue paint caused problems for the Concorde:-
In the 90s the Pepsi was on a mission to rebrand their soda and were to shift to a new color scheme of blue, which will be different from Coca Cola. This whole advertisement campaign was named as Project Blue with a budget of about $5 Million.
For the campaign, the Concorde was to be decorated with blue paint with the word “PEPSI” written on the fuselage. From the factory, the Concorde was painted with special heat-absorbing paint which was different from traditional aircraft paint. Due to the high velocity of the aircraft, the outer surface generated a lot of heat which the paint used to absorb. But due to the introduction of new blue paint, the aircraft didn’t remain a good absorbent and hence was limited to Mach 1.7, well below its cruising speed of Mach 2.1. Thankfully, the campaign only lasted 2 weeks, after which the plane returned to its usual business.
The plane belonged to Air France with a fleet of 20 Concorde.
Apart from the Concorde, and the moon landings being the most ambitious projects of the 20th century, there was one more thing that matches the uniqueness. It was the Blackbird SR-71.
For more information on SR-71 refer: https://medium.com/@sanujraj/brilliance-of-lockheeds-sr-71-bc3e7b9cbf48