SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years

— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

I am confident that SP Guide Publications would continue to inform, inspire and influence.

— Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Indian Navy Chief

My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief

Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde: Racing the Sun

Concorde was the only commercial plane that could race the sun. If it departed London at 10 am local time, it reached New York before 10 am local time.

Issue: 04-2024By Joseph Noronha

Concorde – the word in French means agreement, harmony or union. It was therefore appropriate that this name, proposed by an eighteen-year-old British youth for the world’s only successful supersonic transport aircraft (SST), was publicly announced by France’s President Charles de Gaulle. The project to build Concorde was one of the most significant examples of Anglo-French technological and business cooperation ever.

Concorde was jointly developed and manufactured by Sud Aviation (later Aérospatiale) and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). Construction of the six prototypes began in February 1965. A 1967 advertisement rather optimistically predicted a market for 350 aircraft by 1980. The manufacturers did receive around 100 option orders from many airlines, including two from Air India. However, the development cost was so great – around £1.5 billion against the initial estimate of £70 million – that it could never be recovered. Finally just 20 Concordes were built and only 14 were delivered – 7 each to Air France and British Airways. Both the British and French governments took a substantial financial hit on this account.

Be that as it may, the first flight of the ogival delta-wing Concorde – a technological marvel – took off from Toulouse on March 2, 1969. Concorde subsequently went supersonic on October 1, 1969. The airliner could maintain a supercruise of Mach 2.04 (2,179 km/h) at an altitude of 60,000 feet, from where travellers could simultaneously see the darkness of space and Earth’s curvature. But sonic booms over the ground limited it to transoceanic flights. Constructed out of aluminium, Concorde was a tailless aircraft with a narrow fuselage permitting 4-abreast seating for 92 to 128 passengers. It had a droop nose for better landing visibility. It was powered by four Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 afterburning turbojets. It was the first airliner to have analogue fly-by-wire flight controls.

Long before it entered commercial service, Concorde facilitated the study of a total solar eclipse. On June 30, 1973, helped by Concorde’s inertial guidance systems, the plane rendezvoused with the eclipse point over North Africa within one second accuracy. Five teams of onboard scientists were enabled to carry out experiments during the totality period artificially extended to 74 minutes. No other transport plane could have done this.

Concorde entered service on January 21, 1976, with Air France from Paris to Rio de Janeiro, and British Airways from London to Bahrain. However, Concorde landings in the USA were initially banned due to protests over its sonic booms. This not only delayed its launch on the lucrative North Atlantic routes but, more significantly, dissuaded potential purchases from the US airlines. Eventually Concorde services to America received limited permission provided the jet remained in the subsonic regime overland. The first transatlantic flight happened on May 24, 1976, slashing the average flight time between London and New York to about three and a half hours. Concorde was the only commercial plane that could race the sun. When it departed London at 10 am local time, it reached New York before 10 am local time.

But the Concorde dream soon began to unravel. The 1973-74 stock market crash and the 1973 oil crisis had made many airlines wary about fuel-guzzling passenger planes. New economical wide-body airliners, such as the Boeing 747, had also made subsonic travel significantly more efficient and offered a low-risk option for airlines. And a clear trend towards cheaper airline tickets was emerging – something that Concorde could never aspire to. Concorde consumed four times more fuel than the Boeing 747, which could carry nearly 500 passengers. Environmental advocates argued that Concorde’s emissions would damage the ozone layer. Yet the small fleet of Concordes continued flying for almost three decades, shattering records. In 1996, a British Airways Concorde flew from New York to London in just 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds, which remains the fastest ever transatlantic crossing by a passenger aircraft.

In a strange twist of fate, this sleek, beautiful and ultimately doomed aircraft’s fall from grace was not because of any inherent deficiency or design flaw. On July 25, 2000, an Air France Concorde taking off from Paris struck a piece of metal debris dropped by another airliner on the runway. The thin metal strip punctured one of Concorde’s tyres, sending chunks of rubber flying that ruptured the fuel tank. The left wing burst into flames and the airliner crashed into a building. All 109 people aboard were killed, along with four on the ground. Concorde was immediately grounded and not cleared to return to commercial service for over a year. By then consumer confidence had plunged and the sky-high costs of supersonic jet travel became even more difficult to stomach. Concorde’s final supersonic passenger flight was on October 24, 2003, when it conveyed 100 travellers from New York to London.