At a time when technology is advancing faster than the speed of sound, it’s surprising that we’re 16 years on from Concorde’s last flight, and there’s no replacement form of supersonic travel on the horizon. At 20 years old, and at a university less than five miles from London Heathrow, I watched the final flight from New York’s JFK approach the UK hub. Like me, most people were only able to marvel at this iconic aircraft from a distance. In 2019, there’s a whole generation who never even saw Concorde fly.
A plane that was once the very essence of the future has been resigned to the history books.
Even if you’re not into planes, the first and only supersonic passenger plane is one beauty that owns some pretty incredible facts. If you associate this supersonic jet with times ye olde, here are some astounding facts that show this plane is anything but outdated.
- It took five years to agree whether Concorde was spelt with or without the ‘e’. The French spelling was finally chosen.
- Concorde flew faster than the rotation of the earth. It remains the only commercial plane to fly twice the speed of sound at Mach 2. This equates to a speed of 1,330 mph – over twice the speed of your average long haul plane.
- The fastest Concorde flight from London to New York clocked in at 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds. The average subsonic flight takes around seven and a half hours.
- Passengers could have breakfast in London and reach New York in time for breakfast Eastern Time. Sir David Frost described Concorde as ‘the only way you can, in human life, be in two places at once’. Phil Collins did exactly this in the summer of 1985 when he performed for Live Aid at London’s Wembley Stadium before hopping on Concorde to New York’s JFK, and travelling the final leg in a helicopter to Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium where he played his second set for the same Live Aid event.
- The only surviving operational Concorde simulator in the world is located at Brooklands Museum in the UK. It was built in 1974 at a cost of £3 million (£30 million at today’s prices). We visited the sim earlier this year.
- Just 20 Concordes were built, Six planes were used as prototype and development aircraft, and the remaining 14 went into service.
- There are more astronauts than Concorde pilots.
- Only one photo was taken of Concorde flying at supersonic speed, and the aircraft slowed from Mach 2 to Mach 1.5-1.6 so that the Tornado crew taking the shot could keep up with the passenger jet. Although the Tornado could match Concorde’s cruising speed, it could only do so for a matter of minutes due to the enormous rate of fuel consumption.
- Concorde burned a phenomenal amount of fuel at 25,629 litres per hour.
- The plane was painted white for a reason. The special white paint avoided the aircraft overheating during supersonic flight. The only temporary exception was in 1996 when air Air France Concorde was painted blue for a Pepsi marketing campaign. This restricted the aircraft’s speed and only made 16 flights before returning to its normal livery.
- Concorde got longer in the air. It could stretch a further 6-10 inches to accommodate the intense heating of the airframe inflight.
- Businessman and aviation consultant Fred Finn made the Gunniess Book of Records for making the most flights on Concorde. 718 to be precise.
- Goodbye mile high club, hello 11 miles high club. Concorde’s maximum cruise altitude was 60,000ft (11 miles) – high enough to see the curvature of the earth.
This plane is nothing short of awesome. Will it ever be superseded, or was the 27 year reign of supersonic travel the closest we’ll ever get to time travel? One things’s for sure – there are some very clever people working on bringing it back bigger and better than before. Perhaps the 2020’s will be the decade for the rebirth of supersonic travel.