The Arrival And Departure Of Concorde. Part 1

Whenever we think of the most iconic aircraft, what does spring to your mind? You’re imagining a lot of aircraft, but one of them is probably a Concorde. Its outlandish looks and the revolution that it brought to the aviation industry left a mark to this day. Labeled as an “Aviation icon”, every technician out there dreamt of touching a Concorde. Imagine being an engineer, starting his British Airways career and being able to see Concorde daily. Or being a pilot and being able to fly it. Talk about dreams coming true, eh? The aircraft was and still is a true icon. But what stopped Concorde from taking off ever again? Before we get to the answer, we need to dig deeper. Get some context and realize why Concorde never made it off the ground after 2003.

To the drawing board

The first ambitions to build a supersonic transport (SST) airplane dates all the way back to the 1950s. This was the time that jet engines were making baby steps into commercial aviation and flying still was a very slow and unpleasant experience. So the need and wish for a rapid, safe and even luxurious air transport was very high. After all, remember that a regular man could not afford Concorde tickets and it was a very fancy flight. The first group formed to study SST. Morien Morgan, known as "The Father Of Concorde", led the group. They met in 1954 and delivered their first report in 1955. The report concluded that drag at supersonic speeds was relative to the span of the wing. This resulted in designs with very short-span and very thin trapezoidal wings. You could see those only on experimental military aircraft such as the Lockheed F-104 or the Avro 730. SST’s with these types of wings required a huge amount of engine power to lift off from runways. This needed an enormous amount of fuel. Eric Conway stated that this caused “some horribly large airplanes”. The group considered SST concepts as unrealistic.

Avro 730 startegic bomber. A concept shown. Avro 730 strategic bomber. A concept is shown.

River of ideas

The reports of Johanna Weber and Dietrich Küchemann changed the future of supersonic transport. They wrote a series of papers about “slender delta” wing configuration. This meant that the concept of commercial travel in speeds faster than the speed of sound was possible. D. Küchemann presented this in a meeting with Morien Morgan present. He instantly concluded that this was the answer to their previous problems. Test pilot Eric Brown in his book “Wings On My Sleeve” recalled that this was the official beginning of Concorde. But the solution had its own issues. Particularly that the aircraft needed to take off and land “nose high” and it required a long landing gear to produce the needed angle of attack.

So a new study group, led by Morien Morgan, formed. Called the Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee (STAC), they stated that an SST would have similar profit margins to a regular subsonic aircraft. As long as fuel prices remained the same (spoiler alert: it did not). STAC made up a plan that development needed to start in 1960 to meet the goal of an SST taking off in 1968. The group estimated a cost of about £75 to £90 million for a long-range aircraft. The short-range version would need between £50 and £80 million. Later on, it was canceled, as no one showed interest in buying it.

The deadline, estimates and design features were set. The Concorde, which was not still called Concorde back then, is becoming a reality. In part 2 the French come, the development costs keep rising and somehow miss the estimates and the first official flight of Concorde commences.

You can read part 2 here:

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