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Discover what made the future: Concorde

The Concorde first went supersonic almost exactly fifty years ago – 1st October 1969.

The Concorde was a British and French collaboration (a feat in itself), with Air France and British Airways also being the only airlines to ever buy and fly one. A committee was tasked to look into the viability of supersonic transport and one year later the first report said that it would be infeasible.

The knowledge of supersonic flight at the time dictated that small wings were needed to handle the supersonic drag. It was determined that the take-off and landing requirements were far-fetched and the amount of fuel that would be needed would require gargantuan planes. Enter Johanna Weber and Dietrich Kuchemann. Together they introduced the concept of the planform wing which significantly increased lift and the quality of low-speed flight. They went with the ogival (see ogee) wing shape in the end.

Flights went for about $12,500 (today’s money) a pop. This was due to the high construction cost and to the rate at which it burned through the fuel. At 15.8 passenger miles per gallon, it was about 3 times less efficient than the Boeing 747. The program ran far over its estimate eventually totalling £1.3 billion.

The Concorde introduced many technologies to commercial flight such as tailless design, fly-by-wire controls, ogival wings, super-cruise, thrust-by-wire engines, a droop-nose, high-temperature alloy, and numerous others. The body was made from heat resistant aluminium because the air compression at these speeds heated the outer surface of the plane causing the cabin to heat up. The droop-nose was developed by Marshall’s of Cambridge to reduce drag and give better visibility because of the angle of attack (air and wind force).

In 2015 the Concorde fans kicked up the campaign to bring it back and the tentative date was set for this year but that seems unlikely. At 2,158 km/h you could cut your flight time down to the Cape to 25 mins.

Concorde means harmony, referring to the Anglo-French relationship.

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